(Back row, left to right) Amanda Bonella, Drug War Survivors program co-ordinator; Wallace Harrod, member; (front row, left to right) René Labelle, member; Kiah Ashley, member; Grace Unruh, member. Drug War Survivors is hosting a park cleanup and bubble release for International Overdose Awareness Day. (Dustin Godfrey/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford group taking hands-on approach to Overdose Awareness Day

Drug War Survivors holding bubble release to remember fallen friends and cleanup Grant Park

As the world looks to recognize the impact of overdoses on communities on Friday, an Abbotsford group of current and former drug users seeks to use the day for something a little more hands-on.

The Drug War Survivors (DWS) chapter in Abbotsford will hold a cleanup at Grant Park for International Overdose Awareness Day, as well as a bubble release to remember friends gone by.

RELATED: Naloxone training part of Positive Living overdose awareness event in Abbotsford

“When we looked up the word ‘release,’ when we talked about doing a bubble release, we really liked the definition of it. It was ‘to set free from confinement,’ ” said Amanda Bonella, program co-ordinator for the local DWS chapter.

“And we liked that idea – that some of the people we lost had struggled a long time before we lost them, and so the idea of them finally kind of being free is a loving way to reflect. Rather than just really thinking so much about the loss, but also thinking about the freedom of their lives now.

“It shouldn’t take death for people to be free, but sadly for many of them it is what it took. … The awareness – it’s about that. Death is not the consequence for drug use. That’s not appropriate at all.”

RELATED: How to survive an opioid overdose (with video)

For DWS member René Labelle, the most important issue surrounding addictions currently is something akin to a prescription heroin program.

The federal government announced earlier this year it would be allowing doctors to prescribe diacetylmorphine – medical-grade heroin – for people facing opioid addictions, intended to view addictions as a health matter rather than a legal one.

But that can’t come soon enough, Labelle said, adding a prescription heroin program would “keep somebody unsick” and therefore they “don’t have to break into that guy’s house for a loonie” or enter sex work to self-medicate.

RELATED: B.C. woman shares her painful experience with opioid addiction

The park cleanup portion of Friday’s event is coming with support from the City of Abbotsford and the Fraser Health Authority, which are providing bags, tongs and other tools for cleanup.

DWS has already been working on community cleanups, especially in the downtown area, and Friday’s cleanup will provide that ongoing project with some supplies from Fraser Health, such as tongs. DWS will be able to keep those supplies, helping to cement the project into place.

DWS member Kiah Ashley said funding from Fraser Health has allowed DWS programs, such as the cleanup, to flourish.

RELATED: Take-home naloxone may be replacing 911 calls in Fraser Health area

“If we can ride on that and continue to meet their goals and show them what we’re capable of, then hopefully they will acknowledge that, continue to support that and increase the support across the board,” Ashley said.

Bonella noted that the biggest contributor to overdose deaths in the community is stigma surrounding addictions, and a park cleanup can help to ease that.

“There’s such a strong desire from our people to get involved … to not be so separate and always looked at as the problem, but to be given the tools – literally, the tools – to help. So hopefully doing the cleanup shows that that community spirit is alive in everybody in Abbotsford, clean or sober, drunk or high.”

Friday’s event will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Grant Park (31850 Madiera Place), and organizers hope the general public will come out to meet members of Drug War Survivors to get to know some of the marginalized members of the community and reduce their own stigma.

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Dustin Godfrey | Reporter


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