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Overdose Awareness Day goes virtual, message remains the same

North Bay’s fourth annual Overdose Awareness Day programming may be virtual, but the goals remain the same for those involved.

Brooke Bertrand, an Addictions Therapist with the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing and a committee member of North Bay’s Community Drug Strategy’s Harm Reduction Pillar, says the goal of the campaign is simple.

“To bring recognition to the people who have been injured or who have died as a result of substance-related overdoses. As well as provide education and help promote prevention for future overdoses,” Bertrand said.

Overdose Awareness Day began in 2001 in Australia and is recognized every year on August 31.

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The North Bay Community Drug Strategy involves the Health Unit, AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area, and the Community Counselling Centre of Nipissing among others to organize programming for Overdose Awareness Day.

From August 31 to September 4, the Community Drug Strategy will be holding online information sessions including an Opening Ceremonies, naloxone information and training, and a methamphetamine webinar.

Meagan Deutekom, who works with the AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area and also works with the Harm Reduction Pillar, says that they will also have events for those who may not be able to access online.

“We do have activities that are happening through needle/syringe programs throughout the week. We have snack bags and swag bags that are going out. We also have these plantable heart-shaped seeds that people coming through needle exchanges can put their name on and then they’ll be given back to the agency to be planted in our overdose garden,” she explains.

Deutekom adds that this year’s virtual event will have its challenges.

“The biggest challenge is that we’re going to be missing that intimate ceremony component,” she said.
Bertrand, who has been involved with all four Overdose Awareness Days in North Bay, says that she’s seen the event grow over time.

“When we started this event four years ago, we were the ‘little event that could.’ We had maybe 75 people down at city hall and it was mostly people in the community who were living with substance use problems,” she said. “Last year we had a lot more people from the community join us.”

Between 2016 and 2019, more than 15,000 Canadians died from opioid-related deaths, according to the Government of Canada. Bertrand says that opioids get the attention in the conversation on overdoses, but there is more to it.

“We do have to remember that people die of alcohol overdoses as well. Also, it’s not just people who are using on the streets, but it could happen to anybody in any socioeconomic status, racial status or age,” Bertrand said. “Overdose does not discriminate.”

She adds that uprooting the stigma surrounding overdoses is among the top priorities for the campaign.
“Stigma is rooted in fear, and it’s fear of what we don’t know, primarily. So, if we can help provide evidence-based information about this problem then we’re going to be able to move forward as a community,” said Bertrand.

Coming up on the Awareness Day’s fourth year, Deutekom says she notices more community support for the cause.

“I see a lot more initiatives happening in the community in collaboration with community problems and people with lived experience. That’s fantastic because it’s not like that everywhere. I think the more that we educate the public and the more awareness that is spread, then more people are knowledgeable and willing to support the cause,” she said.

Deutekom adds that the official colours of Overdose Awareness Day are purple and silver, which will be worn by organizers for the entire week to commemorate those lost to overdoses.

Registration for the events closed on Friday at 12 pm, but late registration is possible with at least 24 hours notice before events by emailing: [email protected]

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