More than 140 people participated in a Red Deer fundraiser Friday in memory of Leah Walker — and the 36 other city residents who died of drug overdoses so far this year.
The first annual Leah’s Light five-km walk/run was organized by Leah’s sister, Ashley Balan. She wanted to raise awareness of Red Deer’s high number of overdose deaths and to erase the public stigma that prevents many drug addicts from seeking help.
Money raised from the event at Kiwanis picnic grounds south of Bower Ponds will also benefit Turning Point. The local harm-reduction group distributes clean needles and is trying to start a safe consumption site in Red Deer to prevent more opioid-related deaths.
Balan was touched that so many people — many who also lost their loved ones to opioid overdoses — turned out to walk or run in memory of her sister, who died while in recovery last January.
“I’m immensely pleased with the turn-out,” said Balan, adding, “I feel good that I can help other people.”
Many Central Albertans mistakenly feel that being a drug addict is a choice people make. “I believe addiction is a disease — and there’s been enough research to show that, so it’s time we started treating it as such,” she added.
Balan and many others at the fundraiser called on the City of Red Deer to get services to help those in the grip of opioids.
A safe consumption site that would keep people alive should be first priority, said Balan, followed by a local drug treatment centre for those wanting help.
Stacey Carmichael, Turning Point executive director, said her group has been in extensive talks with the City of Red Deer, Alberta Health Services, and the provincial health ministry this summer to find a location for a safe consumption site in Red Deer.
Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced on Friday that a temporary safe consumption site will be located at Red Deer’s Safe Harbour Society site downtown.
“This one won’t be mobile. It will be temporary,” said Hoffman in an interview.
Deborah Watson, whose two adult children have been struggling with drugs, doesn’t feel the city or the province are doing enough to deal with the opioid crisis. “It’s cheaper to treat (addicted people) than to house them in federal prisons,” said Watson, a member of the national group MomsStopTheHarm.