August 31 marked National Overdose Awareness Day, where we remember those we have lost due to overdose and those who suffer from addiction. Overdose is a tragic, but an all too common issue, as Canada lost 21 people per day in 2021. One of the ways the community came together to remember those we lost was with a vigil held on Wednesday night in Kinsmen Park.

Trevor Weal, one of the event organizers, said events like this are really important to prevent overdose, and one of the best ways the community can support those struggling with addictions is to talk about it.

"The importance of this is to get it out in the community and share it with people. To let people know not to be ashamed. Addiction is a disease and overdose is something that happens because of that, and I don't want people to be ashamed and not talk about it. This is something, to me, that needs to be talked about every day in every community so we can continue helping people."

Vigil 1The Vigil at Kinsmen Park

For Weal and many others, the importance of speaking about it is to recognize that people who struggle with addiction don't choose to be that way. Like other sicknesses, it's important to recognize that these people need help and acceptance from the community.

"There is still a huge stigma on addiction. (There's the thought that) that a person who's drinking, doing drugs, they're not a good person, they're not worthy of society, they're not worthy to be part of our community. At the same time, somebody isn't going to sit there and say that about somebody who has cancer, or somebody who's had a heart attack or a stroke. At the end of the day, addiction is a disease, just like all the rest of the diseases out there, so we need to not stigmatize it, we need to recognize it."

Unfortunately, we can see the devastating effects addiction and overdose have on some community members right here in Strathmore. Last year, we lost Katy Hogan to overdose, and her mother Heather Busch was one of many at last night's vigil.

"She was an amazing soccer player, she was an amazing flute player, she was an amazing sister to her siblings. She was an amazing daughter."

Everybody we lose to overdose is important to someone, and Busch said it's important to recognize this. The stigma around addiction and overdose may cause some people to forget this, but every life we lose is a tragedy.

"All of these people were somebody's brother, daughter, son, father, mother. And I think a lot of people dehumanize addiction. These are people. My daughter was somebody, and I was her mother. And the guilt I live with is unbearable, and the fact that I'll never see her again is unbearable, and the fact that even though I am her mother and I saw her just a few months before she passed away on Facetime. She was unrecognizable, I didn't know what to do to make it right for her. I didn't know how to fix this."

"Everybody's lives move forward, and I'm still where I was May 20, 2021."

A purple chair was at the vigil, which represents the many empty chairs at the dinner table due to overdose. Busch feels the purple chair should constantly be in the community to continue to raise awareness and have people talking about overdose more than one day a year.

"I think it's good that it brings awareness. I feel that a purple chair should be at the front of the town hall office's in the foyer, in many other places, and not just brought out once a year and then it sits in a closet gathering dust for the rest of the year, sort of like a photo opportunity once a year that hopefully makes the community feel a bit better, but then it goes back in the closet, like addiction, right?"

"That chair needs to be out in the public eye 24/7, 365 days a year."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction Alberta Health Services addiction helpline is available 24/7.

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