‘Drive to Destigmatize’ held on 8th anniversary of declaration of B.C.’s toxic drug emergency

Community advocates and supporters gathered in Richmond for an event aimed at reducing stigma and raising awareness about the toxic drug crisis.

It was held on Sunday, the eighth anniversary of B.C. declaring the toxic drug crisis a public health emergency.

The event, Drive to Destigmatize, was organized in response to some community reactions regarding the city council motion to consider a safe consumption facility in the city. Hundreds of Richmond residents voiced their displeasure with the potential facility at numerous protests and council meetings.

Advocates and supporters gathered on Sunday and drove around the city to key locations to spread their message. The ride was organized by Trevor Tablotney and his mother. They lost their brother and son, Curtis Tablotney, who died of an overdose on Dec. 14, 2022.

“My brother, Curtis, was a substance user. It started just out of high school, making money at a young age,“ Trevor Tablotney said. “It kind of spiraled from there like it does for a lot of people. There is a lot of misunderstanding of what drug use actually looks like. Everybody sees the end result of what things looks like in the Downtown Eastside … but the majority of people dying right now are dying in their homes.”

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Those in attendance themed their cars in purple colours as it is the colour for overdose awareness.

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Eight years to the day after British Columbia declared a public health emergency, Premier David Eby said the toxic drug crisis has had a “catastrophic impact” on families and communities. He said in a statement that toxic drug deaths have taken a toll on friends and loved ones of those who’ve been lost, and also on front-line workers who deal with the ongoing damage done by addiction and drug deaths.

Eby said the situation needs to be recognized as a “health crisis,” as his government tries to build and improve the mental-health and addictions-care system in the province.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the public-health emergency has strained the province in “unprecedented ways.”

Henry said drug users come from “all walks of life,” often dealing with trauma, and those who try to free themselves from addiction have to go through a recovery process that isn’t “linear” or hinged upon total abstinence.

The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users said in a statement that the anniversary comes as the crisis has “morphed into a toxic political issue,” and it, along with other drug-user associations, will hold a town hall Sunday to address the public-health emergency.

More than 14,000 people have died from toxic drugs since the public health emergency was declared eight years ago.

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The rate of overdose deaths in B.C. is roughly twice as high as it was in 2016.

— With files from Canadian Press

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