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Event to honour lives lost to toxic drugs returning to Semiahmoo Peninsula

Peace Arch News - 2/28/2024

A time for loved ones to honour those who have been lost to B.C.'s toxic drug supply is returning to the Semiahmoo Peninsula early next month.

Black Balloon Day, held annually on March 6, aims to bring awareness to overdose deaths. Recognized in many countries, the day originated with one American family's loss: Greg Tremblay died of an overdose on March 6, 2015, when the father of four was 38 years old.

Now, those affected by overdose and toxic drug-related deaths release a black balloon on the day in memory of their loved one.

Drug-related deaths have been impacting many people in B.C., which is why members of White Rock and South Surrey's education and advocacy group on the overdose and toxic-drug crisis – the Community Action Team (CAT) – are bringing Black Balloon Day back for a second year. Last year's event honoured Julie Cochrane, who lost her stepson Cody Anders to an overdose in 2018.

"This year we're opening it up for everyone, recognizing that this has really impacted a lot of people in our community," said Kiah Ellis-Durity, the local CAT's project co-ordinator and substance use health educator.

Since the public-health emergency was declared in the province in April 2016, the overdose and toxic drug supply crisis has claimed 14,000 lives. Deaths hit a record last year, with 2,511 people losing their lives due to the illicit supply.

"In winter months, we see people using more in isolation and not accessing resources," Ellis-Durity has observed.

"It's really important that we raise awareness to this issue and also create a space where community members can come together and reflect on their loved ones and have a space where they feel safe and where they feel heard. (In addition to) people who are using alone that are struggling with their substance use, there's also the family members and community members that are affected by the toxic drug supply."

The Semiahmoo Peninsula's Black Balloon Day is set for Bakerview Park (1845 154 St.) in South Surrey, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, March 6. Hosted by the CAT team, Alex House Youth Space and Sources' Peer Support Network, those wanting to participate will be offered biodegradable black balloons. Naloxone training and other educational resources will also be available the day-of.

The day is also coming ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day, held yearly on Aug. 31.

"It's nice to have multiple events so people aren't waiting once a year to come together," Ellis-Durity said.

- with files from Canadian Press