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Overdose awareness on wheels – motorcade winds through White Rock

Community action group organizes Aug. 19 motorcade in place of march
Unable to hold a march this year because of COVID-19, members of the White Rock South Surrey overdose response community action team ‘Tides Of Change’ instead hosted a motorcade through the city Aug. 19. The annual effort is intended to raise public awareness about the ongoing overdose crisis. (Alex Browne photo)

The medium may have been different but the message was undimmed.

Members of the White Rock South Surrey overdose response community action team ‘Tides Of Change’ realized earlier this year that COVID-19 precautions would stymie their efforts to organize the march for International Overdose Awareness Day they began in White Rock last year.

Instead, they shifted gears and made the Aug. 19 event a motorcade through the city.

And as the procession of cars, vans and SUVs, decked out with placards, purple ribbons and balloons, snaked its way slowly along a ring route – including Oxford Street, Marine Drive, Stayte Road, North Bluff Road and Johnston Road – numerous waves and horn honks provided ample proof of public support from the community.

Among those riding in the motorcade, led by RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls, were White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, Couns. Erika Johanson and Christopher Trevelyan, and city leisure services director Eric Stepura.

There will be more to come to mark the international event on Aug. 31, as the team stages a flag-raising ceremony at 4 p.m. at city hall, with white crosses and purple ribbons placed on the lawn to represent some 50 overdose deaths in the region including South Surrey and White Rock, since 2016.

READ ALSO: B.C. paramedics responded to a record-breaking 2,700 overdose calls in July

READ ALSO: Parallel crises: How COVID-19 has exacerbated the drug overdose emergency

Team member Matt Huot told Peace Arch News plans are also to light the pier with purple lights for that day – the colour has been chosen to symbolize awareness, loss of a loved one and support for the grieving – and to provide an information booth at the pier on harm reduction support services available in the community.

“Even with the current pandemic health crisis we feel there is an issue with overdose deaths that we need to bring a lot of light to,” he said.

“As more and more people have lost their lives to this, we want to make sure they’re not forgotten,” he added.

Dr. Jennifer Hammersmark of The Counselling Group noted the incidence of overdose deaths has been increasing since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a provincial emergency in March.

But she said she was surprised at how well received this year’s motorcade was, even though the opportunities for the public to engage with participants, ask questions and learn the stories of victims could not be the same as it was during last year’s march.

“This isn’t just a downtown problem – it’s a ’burb problem,” she said, noting that White Rock has its own opioid agonist treatment (OAT) clinic “for people who want to get off their drugs.”

Opened in December of 2018, the clinic provides doctor-referred opioid addicts with medications such as methadone and Suboxone, which help them manage symptoms of craving and withdrawal without experiencing a ‘high.’

George Passmore, Sources Community Resources Centre’s manager of substance use services – and co-chair, with public health nurse Shauna Smith, of the Tides of Change team – said he was also pleasantly surprised at the number of residents who showed support as the motorcade passed.

“It gives me hope,” he said adding that the team has to counter the low visibility – but increasing threat – of the opioid crisis in White Rock and South Surrey – and the stigma still attached to those who overdose.

“All the people who died in this area from overdoses, so far in 2020, were in private residences,” he said.

“So, here, it’s not a problem in the streets – it’s in the homes,” he said.

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