By Jensen, Randy on July 15, 2020.
Lethbridge Herald -piikani nation
Over the weekend, families from all over southern Alberta joined with the Piikani Nation for a memorial photo shoot to honour and remember the many lives lost to the opioid crisis.
Moms Stop the Harm created the seven-part series across the country to physically show the expanding impact of a single life lost to addictions. Organizers and participants wanted to make noise around the lack of resources for people with addictions, while COVID-19 resources came immediately and were taken more seriously.
“Today’s event is the seventh in a series of iconic memorial photos that have been taken across Canada by Moms Stop the Harm, which is a national prevention of overdose and addiction in group supports,” says Lori Vrebosch, team lead for Alberta Moms Stop the Harm, and Piikani community member. “The reason we are getting together today is because at this stage, we are in these ugly times where we have the intersection of two pandemics, one being the COVID and the other being the opioid crisis, and they are coming to an intersection that is taking the lives of so many of our people and what we are doing is trying to ask governments at all levels, in every community across the country, to escalate the response to the opioid crisis and meet the same response that we are giving to COVID.”
Over the last few years the Piikani Nation has experienced dozens of overdose deaths that ripples through the community. Without the proper resources, on top of an additional pandemic, participants say the lack of government support has created a larger issue they continue to neglect.
“Here on the nation, in the past five weeks we have had five overdose deaths take place here and we have lost band members. There are families living in complete devastation because of the loss of life that has occurred here,” says Vrebosch. “The new problems that are arising, relative to the intersection of pandemics, has created such things as rehabilitation centres being more difficult to get into, if they haven’t already been closed. Access to mental health has been a challenge because they can’t meet in person with their resources, being isolated in homes. There are so many problems that are making ways such as substance use, domestic violence, and the bottom line is that we have to do everything we can to save lives.”
Participants joined to share their stories of lost loved ones and to help open the eyes of people who haven’t experienced this type of loss.
“It has been four years since my son died and I was thinking about why I keep doing this, and people tell me that my son would be proud, but I don’t think that he would be or appreciate me doing this,” says Kym Porter, memorial participant from Medicine Hat.
“I think a big reason why I do this is because when you are touched by such a loss that something inside you changes and it hopefully opens up your eyes to be more compassionate and understanding and that is something I want to promote.”
Advocates with the Moms Stop the Harm organization are pushing for more rehabilitation services and recovery, as well as the push to legalize illicit drugs for personal consumption, as mental health conditions such as addiction are categorized as criminal.
“I believe that we need to have a safe supply of illicit drugs. We need to decriminalize illicit drugs for personal use. Substance use isn’t a crime and it has been made a crime and I definitely think that we need this so that we don’t have these photo shoots and meetings to show people the effects of overdose,” says Porter. “I believe that the government needs to do better, with the COVID crisis, there has been lots of supports put into place for it, but this situation has been forgotten about and there needs to be resources available so that we are actually able to change.”
Families and friends of lost loved ones across the country, in southern Alberta and on the Piikani Nation hope governments will take the same kind of action and professionalism to improve and fix the opioid crisis that has been going on for years, the same way they reacted to COVID in a matter of weeks.
Follow @GBobinecHerald on Twitter