For longtime Sunshine Coast peer support worker Brian Mackenzie, of i2i Peer Support, the International Overdose Awareness Day gathering in Sechelt was a “breakthrough” event.
The gathering to honour those lost to the overdose crisis, and to gather those affected by the crisis, saw probably 50 or 60 people come through Hackett Park the afternoon of Aug. 31, organizer Erik Miller told Coast Reporter.
“The stigma that persists, especially in small rural communities like this one, makes it very difficult to get people to come out publicly,” Mackenzie told the crowd in his speech, adding that he was impressed with the number of people who had come out.
Mackenzie was one of two speakers (Coastal Recovery Community co-founder TJ Sheehan was the other) who shared their personal experiences and what they’re doing in the community to respond to the crisis.
“Drug use is normal. People use drugs. And pain is complicated,” Mackenzie told the crowd.
He later added, “Being with someon in pain is difficult. And if we don’t know that person, it is easy to turn away, especially with all the distractions today.”
Later speaking with Coast Reporter, Mackenzie highlighted to the importance of safe supply – a longtime focus of i2i Peer Support’s advocacy. He also noted that he was surprised to see the Naloxone teaching station busy throughout the event, “because a lot of people and the users in particular have all learned that already. That indicates pretty clearly that it was other members of the community who were stepping up to learn that skill and improve their options for helping others survive the crisis. So that's pretty pretty awesome.”
Miller said he thought it was a pretty successful event. “It seemed to me that we created a respectful and supportive space where we were overcoming the stigma a little bit and offering an opportunity for people to come know that they were supported by their community,” said Miller.
“We definitely had a few moms come by and others who are connected. There were people who brought pictures or poster board, and there was an informal memorial created.”
Local musician Jill Shatford sang, both solo and with the Threshold Choir – an international group of women who sing at bedsides of those ill and dying. “It was really a very important community gathering,” Shatford told Coast Reporter. “There's just such a depth to this grief, you know, parents losing their children often.
“It just brings me to that place of how do we as a community respond when it's a social crisis?
“There's so many layers to what needs to happen to make a change here.”
Other musical contributions came from Alcvin Ramos who played shakuhachi flute during the event.