Advocates honour those lost to overdoses in Manitoba, call for more supports

The candles flickered in rows along the front steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Saturday night, each flame representing one of the 259 lives snuffed out by an overdose in the province in the first nine months of 2020.

The small vigil was meant to raise awareness of a growing problem in the province that advocate Shelly Taillieu said has become a crisis.

“These people that are dying are not bad people … It can happen to anybody,” said Taillieu, whose daughter Destiny died of fentanyl poisoning a few days before her 23rd birthday in 2018.

Leading up to Saturday, volunteers with Overdose Awareness Manitoba also tied cards with black balloons on them along a stretch of walking paths on Churchill Drive in Winnipeg, each representing a person who died from an overdose last year.

Taillieu said she wants the province to do more to support people struggling with substance abuse issues so what happened to her doesn’t keep happening to other families.

“It’s the worst thing that could ever happen in your life … to lose your child,” she said.

She said her daughter waited six months for a treatment bed, and ended up going to a private facility that racked up $23,000 monthly bills — which presents a barrier for people who can’t afford to take that step.

“That has to be more readily available,” she said. “I hope that our government will take a look at this and actually do something and help us.”

Rebecca Rummery helped start Overdose Awareness Manitoba after her boyfriend, Rob Ashley, died of an overdose in 2018.

Hundreds of candles lined the steps of the Manitoba Legislative Building on Saturday night, each representing someone who died from an overdose in Manitoba last year. (Marouane Refak/Radio-Canada)

Since then, she said there have been small changes. 

In December, for example, the province announced it was changing the way the opioid overdose antidote naloxone is classified so stores could sell it over the counter, making it easier for people to access the life-saving medication.

“They are taking action, but it’s not enough,” she said.

Immediate access to treatment, medically assisted detox, supervised consumption sites and drug decriminalization are all on the list of things that still need to happen, she said.

So is reducing stigma around addiction — which Rummery said can present insurmountable barriers for people who need help.

“Stigma really stops people from reaching out,” she said. “It’s why so many people suffer alone.”