Waterfront Drive is framed by large trees, fragrant flowers, and pockets of green space with plenty of park benches to take in the scenery. Commuters and community members walk, bike, and run down the scenic paths along the Red River through Stephen Juba Park.
This summer the park glows purple with the new, commemorative, Memory Garden, a special place where loved ones are remembered and honoured with purple ribbon, photographs, and painted stones. The purple ribbon is used as a way to remember those lost too soon to overdose poisoning or substance-related harm, helping end the stigma related to substance use.
Arlene and Kathy are among the loved ones who brought and continue to bring ribbon, photos, and stones. They are members of the Manitoba chapter of Moms Stop the Harm (MSTH), a network of Canadian families whose loved ones have died from drug-related harms or who have struggled with substance use. They call for an end to the failed war on drugs and embrace an approach that reduces harm and respects human rights.
Nine Circles Executive Director Mike Payne met with MSTH earlier this month to find out more about what they do and gather advice as Nine Circles works to determine our evolving role in responding to people who use drugs here in Winnipeg.
The timing of their conversation couldn’t be more apt, as International Overdose Awareness Day falls on August 31, 2019, a day that honours each of the 4,460 people we lost in Canada in 2018 to overdose. Groups like MSTH, Nine Circles, and the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network advocate for a people-centered and human rights-based approach to drug use while drawing attention to how criminalization, stigma, and marginalization drives the overdose crisis.
Arlene was able to share simple stories of each of the people in the photos that lined the trees wrapped in purple ribbon. The stories shared both how they lived and how they died as well as the impact on the families. The families want people to know who their loved ones were, not just how they died. Their loved ones took care of their community, they were students, they loved music, had pets, loved camping. The personal stories are important to advocate for better resources and supports. In most cases, these deaths were preventable.
Some of the key issues MSTH have advocated for is the expansion of the Good Samaritan law so that people can feel safe to contact emergency services when someone overdoses, and expanded access to Naloxone/Narcan and other resources. There have been several instances where individuals were in care due to an overdose, but were not given take-home Naloxone upon release, and subsequently overdosed again and died as a result.
Mike and MSTH spoke about how Nine Circles can help promote efforts to ensure anyone released from hospital after an overdose is provided with Naloxone and push for better access to Narcan, a range of treatment programs and after-treatment programs. According to Arlene, the most important thing we can do right now is exactly what we are working towards – creating a safe space for people who use drugs. A place where they can go for safety, kindness and help if/when they are ready.
Nine Circles offers access to harm reduction supplies like new needles, sharps containers, and provides naloxone training/take-home-naloxone kits for people who are at risk of overdose Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Several events are happening for Overdose Awareness Day, including Manitoba Harm Reduction’s interactive community art installation at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) on Friday, August 30th from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The goal of the event is to represent each of the 4460 people lost in Canada in 2018 with an installation of hearts on the sidewalk at the CMHR.