Dozens of overdose victims to be added to Memorial Wall tomorrow

This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day event starts Wednesday at 5 pm at the Memorial Wall at the Civic Center before moving to the Roberta Bondar Pavilion for a free barbecue and information sessions

This year’s events marking International Overdose Awareness Day will focus on remembrance and educating the public on how to use Naloxone and reducing stigma, among other subjects.

This year’s event begins at 5 pm Wednesday at the Memorial Wall in front of the Civic Center, said organizer and SOYA founder Connie Raynor-Elliott.

“Every year we keep growing. Last year we were under COVID restrictions and we still had over 400 people attending,” said Raynor-Elliott.

As the event grows, so does the number of local people lost to opioid-related deaths. Recently released information from the office of Ontario’s Chief Coroner says 111 people died by drug poisoning in the first two years of the pandemic in Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma.

As a whole, northern Ontario has more than double the mortality rate of the entire province.

“These are people. That’s the thing, these are people,” said Raynor-Elliott. “Nobody wants to die and I deal with the families as well and the ones left behind — it’s absolutely heartbreaking, the stories I hear.”

Two mothers who each lost a child to the opioid crisis will speak during the event and dozens of names will be added to the decorative stars on the Memorial Wall.

“It’s a place of peace because a lot of people don’t have markers. A lot of those names don’t go into obituaries,” said Raynor-Elliott.

Tym Morrison will sing Dancing in the Skya song about loss written and originally recorded by BC-based Dani and Lizzy Nelson.

I hope you’re dancing in the sky
And I hope you’re singing in the angel’s choir
And I hope the angels know what they have
I’ll bet it’s so nice up in Heaven since you arrived

“It’s our theme song,” said Raynor-Elliott.

After the song, speeches and unveiling of the names, the event moves to the Roberta Bondar Pavilion, where SOYA and a number of community partners will hold a free barbecue and information session under the tent.

“This event is going to be bigger and we really hope more awareness gets out there,” said Raynor-Elliott. “The organizations will all be under the pavilion and able to tell the public exactly what it is they do.”

“People say there is no help in our city, well there is help in this city but sometimes finding it is the problem,” she added.

The Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy and its partners will be under the pavilion to speak to the public, as will local firefighters and police. Paramedics will conduct seminars about how to administer CPR.

Naloxone training will be provided at the event to those interested in learning, said Cami Coutu, coordinator of the Sault Ste. Marie and Area Drug Strategy. The fast-acting opioid antagonist can temporarily reverse the effect of an opioid overdose and is one of the best tools available to prevent deaths.

“We are really trying to get Naloxone out there and the education through our peer network,” said Coutu.

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