Photo via CBC News

The Greater Vancouver region took part in International Overdose Awareness Day events honouring victims and fighting stigma along with other cities around the world on August 31.

With an estimated minimum of 190,000 deaths due to opioid overdoses worldwide each year, the problem is demanding more immediate attention and action in many municipalities.

In 2016, Vancouver saw a new level of overdoses recorded by emergency services, with nearly 6,800 overdoses that year in Vancouver alone. With fentanyl climbing the ladder of the deadliest drug, Greater Vancouver is expecting to see record-breaking numbers of fatal overdoses continuing in 2017.

There were three events held in greater Vancouver this year to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, including a downtown event called the Commemorative Canvas and a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery, according to the event website.

Many of them followed an agenda of speakers and testimonies, as well as a moment of silence in a sombre remembrance. Some of those in attendance also called for government action on the issue.  

“As a federal plan there is no strategy for monitoring or tracking — without having any understanding of what the problem is, it is very difficult to take action,” said Sasha Woo, head organizer of the New Westminster vigil held at Hyack Square.

Woo recommended that recovery houses and separate emergency services for mental health and addiction be prioritized.

Although filming was taking place at Hyack Square during the vigil, the organizers led the attendees and speakers over to the street space in front of Anvil Centre to continue the event.

“We know that around the world there are vigils just like the one we have here today. We know that the death toll and the number of victims are increasing. So today is a time to remember and a time to act — we must stop what is becoming a catastrophe,” said Peter Julian, MP of the New Westminster-Burnaby region.

“Addiction is not a moral failing,” said New Westminster MLA and minister for Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy in a written statement on the BC NDP website. “It is a complex health condition, often resulting from deep psychological pain or acute physical pain.”

The event in New Westminster concluded with two drum circles to give blessings to victims and their families, and a lot of teary eyes as speakers shared their stories of loved ones lost.

“I think the stigma is what killed him. The fear of being looked down on made him want to do everything on his own and when he was finally willing to reach out for help, he found that the resources weren’t as accessible as he thought,” said Lizzy O’Sullivan from Moms Stop the Harm of her son.