Today, Victoria will recognize Overdose Awareness Day from 4:00 to 8:00 pm with a gathering in Centennial Square. Organized by the South Island Community Overdose Response Network (SICORN), this event will provide an opportunity for the community to come together and remember those we’ve lost, and to educate ourselves to prevent future loss of life.

Addiction is not something we can end for others. Anyone who has experienced addiction, or loved ones struggling with addiction, knows that the strength to beat it must come from within. What we can end is addiction stigma.

We can help others get the care and support they need, but only when we know they are struggling. As a society, we believe that addiction is always visible. In Victoria, where issues of homelessness, mental health, and addictions are frequently intertwined, this perception is especially true.

But there’s much more to addiction than what we can see around us. Addiction is different for every single person and it’s often invisible to everyone but the person struggling. The largest barrier to aid for people struggling with addiction is the stigma that makes them feel like they can’t tell anyone what they are going through.

Many are unable to seek help from their employers for fear of losing their job. Many are unable to speak to their friends for fear of being ostracized. And many are unable to even speak to their families—their parents, their children—for fear of disappointing those they love most.

We can’t expect to solve addiction. We can expect to solve stigma, and we can do it now.

Nearly 4,000 Canadians died from opioid-related deaths in 2017 and over a third of those deaths took place in B.C. These numbers will continue to climb if we don’t take action together.

Our task is simple but difficult to achieve: we have to change the way we think and talk about addiction because that will change the way we act. We simply cannot continue to criminalize people suffering from addiction. We have to treat addiction like any other medical condition, and that means providing access to care.

While we work together to redefine addiction—in our conversations, in our laws, and in our hearts—please join me today in Centennial Square to let everyone struggling with addiction know, “We see you. We are here for you. You don’t need to fight this battle alone anymore.”

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