June 25th, 2024

Candlelight vigil illuminates ongoing opioid crisis

By Lethbridge Herald on January 25, 2022.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard Alvin Mills, Tyler Chief Calf - lead drummer and writer of the song- and Kevin Plaited Hair sing at a candlelight vigil to remember those lost in the opioid crisis Saturday night at Galt Gardens.

Dale Woodard – Lethbridge Herald

More supports and more awareness are being called for as the city continues its battle with opioids.

A candlelight vigil, led by Alvin Mills of the Kii Mah Pii Pii Tsin (Kindness to Others) Healing Centre, was held Saturday night at Galt Gardens for those who have lost their lives to the opioid crisis.

The vigil featured the performance of a drum song in a circle as participants held candles aloft and also included a meal and some words from Lethbridge mayor Blaine Hyggen.

The candles provided some illumination, but Mills stressed shining the figurative light as well on the opioid crisis, which he said is at its highest level now.

“It’s overwhelming us. With the fatalities happening, it’s death upon death. It’s important we remember them as somebody who just overdosed. They had families. They were productive members of society. This gathering is to remember they had families. We have to do what we can to fight this opioid crisis.”

Mills said he appreciated Saturday’s turnout, which was bigger than he expected.

“It means a lot to the people who participated and it sheds more awareness on the struggles that Lethbridge as a whole has been facing. I want to help address the needs of the Indigenous population and the struggles with opioids.”

Mills said the ones struggling in the opioid crisis are getting younger in addition to being on the rise, adding recently there was another overdose and someone else who died of hypothermia.

“So we’re getting into a really dire situation and the powers that be that are out there, we need to start taking a hard look at what has been done and what can we do. There are a lot of things that have been done before and up to this day, it’s been tough. So we have to really start getting input from the grass roots people, the ones who are struggling out here to help them fight this addiction.”

Mallory Kristjanson, a social worker and former front-line worker for over 10 years, recently lost a friend to opioids.

“(He) was on the waitlist who was supposed to go detox on Monday and he passed on Saturday. That’s heartbreaking, and it’s heartbreaking because he deserved better,” she said.

Kristjanson said she had been working with her friend for over four years in a volunteer capacity assisting to advocate for support services.

“Unfortunately, despite phenomenal advocacy through myself and other front-line organizations he was denied service and he deserved better,” she said. “He deserved that support and instead of seeing him housed now, which many have actually received that support, adequate support services, who are no longer facing chronic mental health and who are no longer on our streets. They’re thriving. So instead of celebrating his success we’re going to be celebrating his life on Monday. So we need to start looking at barriers to support services for individuals who don’t have as much support they need to be able to navigate through our support systems in our community.

In the ongoing battle with not only the opioid crisis, but mental health struggles, Hyggen spoke of making sure the right resources are in place.

“So I’ve been doing my best to advocate with our provincial government, meeting with them to receive the additional funding I think we need to be able to battle this crisis we’re in and to get homes for these people who are struggling because without a home it’s pretty tough to get a job or have some stability.”

Kristjanson said the opioid crisis can affect anyone.

“I’ve had friends who became addicted to opioids after getting into an accident and being prescribed opioids and they live in a beautiful house with the white picket fence,” she said. “Yet, we have a stigma of where we think opioids are most destroying our community, but in fact, it’s everywhere and we need to start talking about it and breaking the barriers. We need to come together and raise awareness.”

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I’m certain Alvin meant to say, or said… “It’s important we DON’T remember them as somebody who just overdosed. They had families…” God Bless you Alvin as you have helped so many.