NANAIMO — There were few dry eyes as family members took the stage to speak about their friends and family who've passed away in the ongoing overdose crisis.
Thursday, Aug. 31 was international overdose awareness day, commemorated in Nanaimo by an event in Maffeo Sutton Park.
Shannon Anderson, who lost her son Dallas on June 9, told NanaimoNewsNOW it was cathartic to speak in a safe space about how her family has been changed forever.
“I'm the face of parents across this province losing their children. I could be anybody. This epidemic we're surrounded by isn't picking and choosing. There's not one demographic, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters...it's taking everybody.”
Her son was in university, lived by himself and had a job. Anderson said she hopes his passing hammers home the idea of there being no standard description of an addict.
“There's such a stigma and pre-concieved notion of what a drug addict looks like and what their family life must be like. It's important for people to get up and say 'it's not what you see all the time on TV and hear about.' It's not just people who are down and out.”
The ongoing emotional toll on families was also a major focus of speeches on Thursday.
“I struggle every day with the should haves, could haves, maybe what if I did this, what if I did that,” Anderson said.
“You always want to think as a parent that you should be able to fix something. You have one job as a parent and that's to protect your child. And when something like this happens, you really feel like you didn't.”
A few months removed from the death of her son, Anderson said she grapples with a different type of grief every day, but strong support from the community has helped.
“I've been able to be angry at a lot of things...the situation, at drug dealers, at the drugs themselves (but) I've never been able to be angry at him or the way he chose to live with his pain.”
Dr. Paul Hasselback, a medical health officer with Island Health, spoke at the event.
He commended everyone involved in organizing the event and spoke to the need of “embracing the fact that residents in the community have been affected. It's something that's become part of their lives and something they're firmly recognizing.”
According to latest statistics from the B.C. Coroner's Service, 24 people succumbed to overdoses from January to June.
Nanaimo's overdose prevention site, which has been open for six months, has stopped 27 fatal overdoses and more than 4,000 people have visited the site on Wesley St.
On Twitter: @spencer_sterrit
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