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'Empowerment…only way out' of overdose crisis

Overdose Awareness Day vigil honours lost loved ones

Mourners of the growing number of drug overdose victims in Vancouver write on a memorial fabric during an International Overdose Awareness Day memorial service on Aug 31, 2017 in the Downtown Eastside.

Jennifer Gauthier / Metro Order this photo

Mourners of the growing number of drug overdose victims in Vancouver write on a memorial fabric during an International Overdose Awareness Day memorial service on Aug 31, 2017 in the Downtown Eastside.

Some mourned alone. Others hugged in tears. Some drummed. One Armed Forces member bagpiped. Some laughed about better times.

But almost without exception, everyone gathered at an overdose vigil in the Downtown Eastside Thursday didn't hesitate to grab a neighbour's hand and hold it when invited to do so.

It always hurts to lose a loved one, intoned Musqueam elder Shane Pointe, who prayed and MCed the memorial event on International Overdose Awareness Day.

"But when you lose someone through trauma," he said, "it hurts even more… but in that pain we can't lose sight of the need to keep moving forward as best as we can … to continue to help."

For Portland Hotel Society's Aboriginal health director Patrick Smith, the crisis that's killed 760 just this year requires a more "holistic" approach than simply life-saving and harm reduction — essential as those are.

"I'm so tired of seeing the very people most deserving of love and kindness — who have been pushed away by everybody — still get substandard health services," he told Metro. "Looking just at the physical side, without looking at the emotional, mental or spiritaul side, forgets that people have experienced horrific childhoods, lives and trauama and are down here just looking for some relief for their pain."

Dozens wrote names of loved ones killed by overdoses on a large fabric heart. But the day also saw calls to action, including the newly formed national advocacy organization the Canadian Association of People who Use Drugs (CAPUD) and three cities' overdose prevention societies issuing a how-to guide for people who want to open their own "pop-up overdose prevention sites," CAPUD said in a statement.

"The only way out of this overdose crisis," said the group's president, Jordan Westfall, "is through the empowerment of people who use drugs … to reduce overdose deaths in their communities."

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