International Overdose Awareness Day happens every August 31 and according to BC Ministry of Health and Addictions, “it is a global event to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.”
This year’s theme is: “Recognizing those people who go unseen.”
For anyone who has lost a loved-one and/or family member to an overdose, every day is a remembrance of the tragedy of the ongoing opioid epidemic across Canada, including in the qathet region.
Maggy Gisle, a member of Moms Stop The Harm (MSTH), a network of Canadian families whose loved ones died from drug harms, lost her son Franklin Garreth Gisle four years ago on August 18, 2019, to fentanyl-related injuries.
“We had a four-year memorial a couple of days ago,” said Gisle, last week. “He is forever 32 years old.”
Gisle’s memories of her son include him being an amazing BMX biker who worked in rebar construction.
“He changed skylines across Canada,” said Gisle.
After crushing his ankle in a bike accident, her son was given a prescription for 125 milligrams of morphine by a doctor, according to Gisle. She blames her son for falling into addiction because the doctor “cut him off cold-turkey.”
“People given opioid prescriptions need to be weaned off,” said Gisle, who, for 17 years, experienced addiction herself, then moved back to the qathet region after her first year of sobriety. She fought hard to get out of the world of addiction and on February 13, 1998, she did.
“Now Valentine's Day is my “new year,” and this year will be my 25th anniversary.”
Gisle went back to school to become a care aid and helped found the Powell River Community Resource Centre (CRC) on Joyce Avenue.
“I have worked as a women and youth worker for 25 years now,” said Gisle. “I know hundreds of people like my son have been put on high amounts of opioids and then cut off cold-turkey and catapulted to the streets and to illicit drugs.”
Gisle is advocating that, if a person is given an opioid prescription, the doctor who prescribes it should have to sign off and take responsibility to wean the person off.
“We are working on a banner not only for those who have passed away but also for those who have survived the opioid crisis,” said Gisle, meaning that many people have been “NARCAN’d,” and brought back from an overdose using Naloxone, a medicine used to reverse a potential overdose from fentanyl and other drugs.
Gisle believes there needs to be more compassion and less judgment, but she does see kindness in the qathet community.
“We are talking about people who have lost the skills to deal with life on life’s terms,” said Gisle. “[People with addictions] need life skills to learn how to get back up.”
Gisle wants to see more comprehensive life skills programming, and even tai chi and yoga classes brought in as a service.
“People are wandering around with everything on their back and are in fight-or-flight mode,” said Gisle. “We need to offer safe spaces and ask them what they need to start their journey out of addiction.”
BC had the highest rate of overdoses occurring in Canada from 2016 and 2019, and was the first jurisdiction in the country to declare a public health emergency on April 14, 2016.
“I believe if I can turn my life around so can anyone else struggling with addiction, as long as they are given support by their community,” added Gisle.
At a candlelight vigil on August 31 (6 to 9 pm), folks will be invited to write a prayer or wish for a loved one on a purple ribbon (provided) and tie it to the overdose bench and tree at the upper Willingdon Beach area near the Chopping Block.
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