In order to raise awareness about overdose, and to reduce stigma, a striking image has been emblazoned on a BC Transit bus in Powell River.
The photograph features a number of Powell River residents who have been affected by the opioid crisis, standing near Willingdon Beach, with crosses, as a signifier of their losses.
Darlana Treloar, who lost her son Sean to overdose, and who organized the photograph by the beach, said last year in January, a number of Powell River residents participated in an overdose awareness/anti-stigma campaign in the name of Moms Stop The Harm. Treloar said Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH), of which she is a member, is a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use-related harms and deaths.
“We advocate to change failed drug policies and provide peer support to grieving families and those with loved ones who use or have used substances,” said Treloar.
She said the iconic and first crosses photo was taken in Kelowna and MSTH members across Canada followed that lead in doing photos in their own communities.
“I called upon Powell Riverites who had lost a loved one to the harms of substance use in order to show the losses and people affected here in our own town.” said Treloar. “We are not immune to addiction and loss. In doing this, I am hoping to raise awareness to overdose and reduce stigma here by showing we are just like everyone else. We could be your family member, friend, co-worker or neighbour; we could be you.”
Stigma one of the biggest barriers
Treloar said stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking and receiving treatment for people with substance use disorders. She suggested people go to momsstoptheharm.com for resources, education and support.
Treloar added that Powell River has support for people who use, and their families, and she prompted people to contact the Community Resource Centre, mental health and addictions or Powell River Harm Reduction. People with a loved one in active addiction and needing peer support can contact email@example.com. For grief, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Powell River also has an affordable treatment centre for men called Miklat Recovery Society, which can be contacted via powellrivermiklat.com.
“I would like to thank Kathryn Colby and Lift Community Services for supporting this bus sign project,” said Treloar.
Colby, manager of community development at Lift Community Services and coordinator of the community action team (CAT), said the CAT paid for installation of the photograph on the bus.
Colby said the CAT, which is a funded body working in Powell River on matters related to the opioid crisis, is comprised of many community agencies, including Moms Stop the Harm Powell River.
“Moms Stop the Harm is such a powerful vehicle,” said Colby. “It encourages other parents to be ‘out’ when their children die due to this reason, and helps humanize the crisis, so the CAT will assist member groups that feed into helping with awareness and stigma.”
Colby said the CAT helps out with community efforts such as Recovery Day and International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), and in lieu of large events last year because of COVID-19, sponsored the painting of the St. John Ambulance building for Miklat, and sponsored IOAD and the bus sign.
For Moms Stop the Harm member Lyn Nicol, the opioid crisis has affected her profoundly. She said in May of 2018, she lost her brother to overdose. Nine months later, in February 2019, she lost her youngest sister.
“Before substance use, they were hardworking, contributing members of society,” said Nicol. “I miss them so much.
“We need a safe supply and decriminalization to support persons who use substances to access rapid treatment, mental health services, recovery and a continuum of care to create accountability, limits, responsibility and respect.”
Maggy Gisle, another MSTH member, said her son died August 18, 2019, and he had addiction issues with fentanyl. She said the care he was given was “terrible and he suffered.” She said he went through heart and lung surgeries and he felt the pain.
“He had no relief from all of those surgeries,” said Gisle. “The health-care system needs to get educated on people with addiction and mental health issues. People with addictions need better support; they don’t need to be shoved out on the street the way they are.”
Gisle said her son was an ironworker and a BMXer. She said he got on morphine when he crushed his ankle and then he was cut off.
“If you’re a doctor and put somebody on a high level of morphine, you should also be responsible for taking him off,” said Gisle. “That’s what catapulted my son into the drug world.”
Member advocates for support
Gisle said she is advocating for support for people who need it.
“They need life skills and a mentor and they need help with their addiction and mental health issues,” added Gisle. “They are not getting that.”
MSTH member Margo Peterson said seeing the city bus with the photograph is an opportunity for members to remember all of the people they’ve lost through opioid addiction. She said she’s a member because she wants to be part of the solution.
“I have family members either in addiction or recovery from addiction and it’s important for me to be a part of helping them to get the services that they need,” said Peterson. “I’ve been with my daughter when she was trying to access services and I know how difficult it was for her. Fortunately, she is in recovery now.”
Peterson said not everyone in Moms Stop the Harm has lost someone. She said her daughter is lucky to be alive.
She said stigma is such a huge barrier for people using substances and it also affects their families.
“It’s a huge barrier to everyone,” said Peterson. “It gets in the way of getting them the help they need.
“I’ve seen how people treat people with addictions. It’s very, very sad, at times. There’s also the other end, where people treat people with the dignity that they deserve, but way too often, you see them being treated poorly.”