Victims of opioid crisis memorialized in online campaign: Moms Stop The Harm

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A group of mothers advocating for change after loved ones have died in Alberta’s opioid crisis — 72 deaths in Edmonton in the first two months of 2021 alone — have launched an online campaign to share memories of the lives lost.

Over 1,300 people died from drug overdoses in Alberta last year, the highest number since 2016 and nearly double the 623 deaths in 2019. The first two months of 2021 has seen 238 fatalities in Alberta, shows online provincial government data.

To go beyond those numbers Mom Stop The Harm (MSTH) created a virtual tribute with 1,000 descriptions of victims of the opioid crisis. In six large blocks, each person is remembered in one sentence, ranging from ‘A family man’ and ‘a gifted athlete’ to ‘he couldn’t go on.’

Dr. Rebecca Haines-Saah, a professor at the University of Calgary and a collaborator with MSTH, said about a third of the anecdotes are directly from MSTH members and family members of the dead while the rest came from news reports, and other remembrance sources.

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“When I’ve shown it to people who have directly experienced this or  people like me who are, you know, working alongside people to support them, is that they can’t begin to read it without crying,” said Haines-Saah. “I think it also shows, because we couldn’t even fit them on one image really and make it legible. They had to have six images. And that’s not even all the depth.”

In between each of those six images is a response to the current government policies to combat the ongoing crisis.

Petra Schulz, a co-founder of MSTH, says the government has failed to address the ongoing issue and is concerned with a recent closure of a safe consumption site in Edmonton. The advocacy group had planned to launch the online memorial on Sunday but moved it to Friday last week in response to news the Boyle Street consumption site would close at the end of April.

Schulz said the criminalization of drugs and people who use them is leading to a more potent supply but a safe supply prevents deaths.

Petra Schulz holds photos of her son Danny Schulz after taking part in a press conference.
Petra Schulz holds photos of her son Danny Schulz after taking part in a press conference. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Kym Porter, a mom who lost her son to overdose in Medicine Hat and a member of MSTH, echoed the calls for a change in policy. She said when alcohol was prohibited, the same issues occurred with people making their own liquor that lead to blindness and death for many.

“This solution is in the hands of the politician. We’ve got countless amount of research to show that if we were to change some of the drug policies, if we were to legalize if we were to supply a safer supply, this wouldn’t be happening,” said Porter.

Requests for comments sent to the provincial government were not returned Sunday afternoon.

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