Purple ribbons have been hung throughout Salmon Arm, including by the Ross Street Plaza, in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)

Son’s death spurs Shuswap resident to speak out against stigma of substance use

Purple ribbons placed around Kelowna for International Overdose Awareness Day

Purple ribbons, recently placed in public spaces around Salmon Arm, are a way of recognizing the grief felt by those who have lost loved ones to overdose.

Sherry Vaile Robinson helped make and place those ribbons. Her son, Tyler, died of fentanyl poisoning in January 2016.

“My son was 23 when he passed away and he had been struggling for eight years and had fallen through many support service cracks in B.C. which was well recognized at the time,” said Robinson, who recently moved from Kamloops to Sorrento. “He left a recovery centre which was abstienence based. When you are detoxing you are even more susceptible to a poison source because your body can no longer tolerate the strength of drug source being used prior.”

In April 2016, the B.C. government declared opioid-related overdose deaths a public health emergency. According to a July 2020 report by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCDC), paramedic attended overdose events increased four-fold over the past three years. And recent BCDC data showed a spike in July 2020 overdose-related deaths throughout the province.

Read more: B.C. announces multi-year plan to double treatment beds for youth with addiction

Read more: Nearly 6 people died from overdoses each day in June as B.C. sees continued spike

“According to the latest report from the BC Coroner’s Service, within Interior Health during the first six months of 2020 alone there have been 115 overdose deaths,” said Interior Health. “This is a drastic increase over 2019, when there were 139 deaths total in IH for the whole year.”

Following the death of her son, Robinson has been endeavouring to raise awareness around substance use. Part of that effort included the purple ribbons, as the colour symbolizes International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31. The day marks a global event used to raise awareness about overdose and reduce the stigma associated with substance use.

Robinson said that stigma effects both substance users and their loved ones who may be reluctant to reach out for support.

“There are many families that are hiding in shame and not wanting to acknowledge their family has a subtance use addiction or has died,” said Robinson who, after her son’s death, realized she could no longer live with the shame and stigma. “I decided, rather than being silent and criticized, I needed to just be out there and be vulnerable and share my story.”

Through her work, Robinson wound up becoming a part of Moms Stop the Harm, a network of families impacted by substance use related harms and deaths, and advocate to change failed drug policies and provide peer support.

“We’re removing stigma that has caused a lot of shame and scouring against people who have been unable ot resolve their dependence on a drug addiction,” said Robinson.

Following the recent spike in overdose-related deaths, the province pledged to add 123 new treatment beds for young British Columbians struggling with drug use. Robinson said the beds were a long-time coming. What she’d also like to see is a greater emphasis on harm reduction, including a safe drug supply for those who may not be ready to pursue treatment.

Read more: Mom of teen who fatally overdosed says B.C. needs treatment beds, not just involuntary holds

Read more: Proposed B.C. legislation to detain youth who overdose could harm them: doctor

“Not everyone is going to be able to make that choice… they need something to keep them safe right now while they’re stuck in the dependency and addiction during this crisis of unregulated drugs that will not go away,” said Robinson.

In Kelowna, people visiting the Community Health and Services Centre on Doyle and Ellis will have the opportunity to check out the Photo Voice Project, a gallery-style collection of photos by individuals and families with lived experience of substance use, helping others see the world through their eyes.

Below is a list of Interior Health substance use services available:

Substance Use counselling: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Due to COVID-19, one-to-one service is delivered remotely via telephone. Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention, Thursdays at 1:15 p.m. Group offerings are via Zoom. Intakes for one-to-one or group services are co-ordinated via phone at 250-832-4103, or via fax at 250-803-4105. Clients can be referred or self-referred. Drop-in servicesuspended at this time.

Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT):Wednesday and Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Due to COVID-19, one-to-one service delivered remotely via telephone. Telehealth options are available for outlying communities of Enderby, Sicamous and Revelstoke. Intakes for services are coordinated via telephone at 250-832-4103, or via fax at 250-803-4105. Clients can be referred or self-referred. Drop-in service has been suspended at this time.

Youth Substance Use Counselling – Outreach: Tuesday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Similar to the other services though age range is 16-24 with a strong engagement with the school system.

There are a number of AA and NA groups available in town. Information can be found at bcyukonaa.org/meetings/meetingsbycommunity.php.

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