Black balloons will be flying in southern Interior communities Thursday to mark the sixth anniversary of B.C.’s declaration of a public health emergency regarding the opioid crisis.
Since that declaration on April 14, 2016, close to 1,500 people have died of an overdose within the Interior Health (IH) region alone.
Recognizing this sombre anniversary, health and substance use teams and community partners will be displaying black balloons in area communities Thursday.
It’s a gesture inspired by International Black Balloon Day, which took place March 6 to bring awareness to the crisis of overdose deaths and to remember those lost to substance abuse.
Businesses and residents are invited to take part and display their own black balloons at their businesses or homes tomorrow.
“Interior Health continues to expand harm reduction measures and invest in mental health and substance use services,” said Susan Brown, IH president and CEO.
“We know the steps taken over the last six years, such as distribution of take-home naloxone kits, introduction of drug-checking services, opening new supervised consumption services and expanding substance use treatment, have saved countless lives.
“Unfortunately, the crisis continues in the face of an increasingly unpredictable, poisonous drug supply. We never lose sight of the lives lost and continue to work hard to expand access to harm reduction and treatment.”
Across IH, mental health and substance use services have been expanding alongside increasing overdose prevention services.
New youth substance use services — including inpatient treatment, counselling, intensive case management and withdrawal management beds — have been added recently, along with record investments in adult substance use services.
In addition to displaying black balloons Thursday, IH challenges people to take a pledge to avoid stigmatizing language around substance use; carry a naloxone kit and learn how to use it; start a conversations with someone about overdose prevention; and learn how to respond to an overdose.
If you see a potential overdose, call 911, noting that the Good Samaritan law can protect people from drug possession charges if they experience an overdose or call 911 after witnessing one.
A total of 174 people in B.C. died of toxic drug poisoning in February — the 17th straight month in which these deaths have exceeded 150.
On Tuesday Interior Health announced it is bringing new outpatient withdrawal services to Penticton, Kamloops, Vernon and Kelowna, which will run seven days a week.