Local advocates are marking Aug. 31 as Internatioanl Drug Poisoning Awareness Day, in response to the worsening toxic drug crisis that has claimed thousands of lives over the last six years.
Formerly billed as International Overdose Awareness Day, the name-change is an updated acknowledgement that deaths are not being caused by overdose, but by a toxic drug supply.
Two events are planned to throughout the day.
The East Kootenay Network of People Who Use Drugs (EKNPUD) is leading a protest march at noon, starting from the ANKORS office (1324 2nd St. N) and heading to city hall.
Later in the day, ANKORS, Operation Street Angel, EKNPUD, the Cranbrook Community Action Team and the Ktunaxa Nation Social Investment Sector will have an event at Operation Street Angel’s building (46 17 Ave S) between 3 – 7 p.m.
Jared Basil from the Ktunaxa Nation will be the keynote speaker, and Katiecia Jimmy will address the harms of the crisis experienced by youth.
“The Ktunaxa Nation Social Sector acknowledges inequities in health, and also the over-representation of Indigenous peoples regarding both substance use and overdose,” said Basil.
“As active partners in the community, and equally as important, the Kootenay region, the Social Sector will continue to play leading and supporting roles in the advocacy and awareness of that which effects the people.”
There will also be a drumming circle, smudging and cedar brushing as well as live music by Jurassic Mike, and food and drink available.
The evening will close with a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. to honour and remember those who have died.
“International Drug Poisoning [Overdose] Awareness Day is the world’s largest campaign to end overdose, and address the stigma and harms done caused by failed drug policy,” said Jessica Lamb, with EKNPUD, in an email. “We want to honour those we have lost, but also celebrate the survivors and those who are working the front lines of this six-year-long public health emergency.”
The event is focusing on the toxic drug crisis’ disproportionate impact on Indigenous peoples and communities, which was highlighted in a recent death review panel report conducted by the B.C. Coroners Service released earlier this year.
The report, which examined the circumstances of 6,007 toxic drug deaths between Aug. 1, 2017 to July 31, 2021, identified health iniquities experienced by Indigenous peoples based on “structural and systemic disadvantages created through the history of colonization” which have resulted in multigenerational and chronic trauma, injustices and oppression.
Based on the latest update from the BC First Nations Health Authority in the month of March 2022, there were 265 paramedic-attended drug poisonings reported by First Nations people. Additionally, First Nations people represented 18 per cent of all drug poisoning events that same month.
This year is trending to be the worst year on record for toxic drug deaths, as the BC Coroners Service reported 1,095 deaths in the first six months of the current year, a two per cent increase from 1,071 deaths reported between Jan. June 2021.
Since British Columbia declared a public health emergency in April 2016, thousands of people have died due to a toxic illicit drug supply.