A group of people assembled in the parking lot of GFL Memorial Gardens Tuesday as part of the National Day of Action on the Overdose Crisis.
Connie Raynor-Elliott and Donna DeSimon of SOYA (Save Our Young Adults) were on hand to talk about what's happening locally while bystanders clutched picket signs.
“This weekend alone, I know of six overdoses. Six overdoses, and two people passed,” Raynor-Elliott told SooToday.
The SOYA leaders say they’ve been compiling statistics independently, and the picture they paint through those numbers is a bleak one.
“Cross-contamination of drugs is killing everybody - they don’t even know what they’re taking,” said Raynor-Elliott. “It’s really hard. We have lost 17 people since September.”
“Since January, there have been at least 60 narcan-reversed overdoses,” added DeSimon. “Think about that. If we didn’t have narcan, we would be burying 60 more people this year.”
“That’s pretty scary, and you don’t hear about it,” she continued. “That’s the thing - this is actually going on, and this is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to tell people this is what’s happening in our city every day.”
Raynor-Elliott says there’s a number of things needed locally to help combat opioid overdoses, including the widespread presence of naloxone kits throughout local businesses, education for the public on how to use naloxone kits and a Level III Withdrawal Management Services facility.
The lack of safe beds, she says, is also an issue for people trying to get clean.
“We don’t have any safe beds,” said Raynor-Elliott. “I’m trying to find safe beds for people in our city. We can’t put them in a lot of places, because there’s no place to put them.”
“They’re trying so hard to get clean and the next thing you know, they’re back on the streets before we can find a place for them before they go to treatment.”
SOYA has taken it upon itself to offer services for residents impacted by addiction, starting up a group roughly a month-and-a-half ago known by the acronym FAST (Family Addiction Support Team) for families who have either lost a loved one to addiction, or have family members currently living with addiction.
The grassroots group is also planning to start another support group in the coming weeks for youth trying to overcome addiction.
That support group, when launched, will meet regularly at the Neighbourhood Resource Centre on Gore Street on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Raynor-Elliott says this group serves a need in the community.
“When they are into sober living, they’re afraid to go out,” she told SooToday. “Where are they going to go? Where’s the safe place? I don’t know any safe place in this city these people can go.”
Raynor-Elliott, who’s known by some people locally as ‘Mama Bear,’ says that she knows, due to her frontline work, when people are dying due to opioid overdoses in the city.
“They text me, they call me,” she said. “The weekends are the busiest time for me, because that’s when there’s a lot of action.”