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Mothers mark opioid anniversary with march in Vancouver

Former City of Maple Ridge artist-in-residence and Maple Ridge homeless advocate mourn loss of children
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Kat Wahamaa marched downtown Vancouver to mark the fifth anniversary of the opioid crisis in B.C. She lost her own son to a fentanyl overdose in 2016. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)

A five year anniversary took place on Wednesday, but it was one not to be celebrated.

Wednesday marked the fifth year of the opioid crisis in the province, and the BC Coroners Service reports, during that time at least 7,072 British Columbians lost their lives to illicit drugs.

That statistic includes Kat Wahamaa’s son and Tracey Scott’s daughter.

Wahamaa, a former City of Maple Ridge artist-in-residence, and Scott, who was once an advocate and voice for the Anita Place Camp in Maple Ridge, marched downtown Vancouver to mark the grim milestone. They are both members of Moms Stop the Harm: a network of families across the country who have been impacted by substance-use and who want to see harm reduction measures put into place including the decriminalization of illicit drugs.

Wahamaa lost her son, Joseph, at the age of 25 to a fentanyl overdose in 2016.

READ MORE: Lives lost too soon to fentanyl

“As with a health emergency like COVID, we need the same kind of roll-out and the same use of public health units, or whatever mechanism, to make sure that clean, pharmaceutical-grade drugs are available to people so that they are not accessing an illicit supply that’s killing them,” said Wahamaa.

“It’s black and white. It’s extremely simple,” she said.

The former Maple Ridge resident, now living in Lake Errock, is pleased that some strides were made over the last five years, like in September last year when provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that physicians and nurse practitioners would have the ability to prescribe safe alternatives to stop users from turning to the toxic drug supply on the streets.

READ MORE: Former health officials, advocates reflect on anniversary of B.C.’s overdose emergency

However, it’s not enough, said Wahamaa.

“The problem is the ability to prescribe is out there, but the prescribers are not prescribing. So that’s a problem,” she noted.

And, added Wahamaa, the government is not making fast enough progress towards decriminalization.

“It is a lack of political will. If this a real health emergency then let’s treat it as such,” said the mother.

Both Wahamaa and Scott joined other members of Moms Stop the Harm and members of Drug User Liberation Front in the march through the Downtown East Side.

In a release on Wednesday, Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner with BC Coroners Service, extended her condolences to anyone in the province who lost a loved one to illicit drugs.

“The tragic loss of these thousands of individuals underlines the urgent need for a substantial shift in our provincial and national response to problematic substance use,” said Lapointe.

The public health emergency was first declared by then-provincial health officer, Dr. Perry Kendall, on April 14, 2016.

Since then, according to the report, the province has continually set new records for illicit drug toxicity deaths.

• Health experts caution people to use in a safe place with a friend or family member close by. However, for those that are going to use alone, Lifeguard app on a mobile phone will contact emergency services if they start overdosing. For more information go to lifeguarddh.com.


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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

I got my start with Black Press Media in 2003 as a photojournalist.
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