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Many central Albertans pay tribute to loved ones lost to substance-related death

Moms Stop The Harm overwhelmed by response to memorial tree
Since the beginning to December many more hearts have been added to the memorial Christmas tree set up at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre by Moms Stop The Harm. (Contributed photo)

There’s a lot of love and heartbreak on display at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

At least 150 purple paper hearts, each representing someone who has died from a substance-related death, decorate a memorial Christmas tree that was set up by Moms Stop The Harm on Dec. 2.

“Some hearts have one name, some have two, there’s a couple that have five. It’s pretty overwhelming,” said Dorene Loughlin with the group whose members have all lost a children to a substance-related death.

“It’s hard for us to see, and I think it’s hard for people in central Alberta to see,” she said about the heart-covered tree trimmed by people visiting the hospital just this month.

Even before the hearts were hung, the tree located near the hospital’s gift shop already had 25 ornaments with photos of central Albertans who have died.

The hearts represent people with substance use disorder, as well as casual or first-time substance users, who have died.

Marla Merkley said people don’t know if the drugs they are taking are contaminated with fentanyl or other dangerous substances. That’s why recognizing the signs of an overdose, access to Naloxone to reverse the effects of opioids, and training to administer Naloxone are so important.

With all the parties at this time of year, the risk of a tragedy is real, she added.

Loughlin said unfortunately people who recognize they have a substance problem still don’t feel comfortable looking for help.

“Good people use drugs. There’s no shame in saying I’m a drug user, or I have somebody in my family who’s a drug user, and I need help. But in our society there’s still a lot of stigma attached to that,” Loughlin said.


On Tuesday Loughlin and Merkley presented a petition on behalf of Moms Stop The Harm to Red Deer-Mountainview MP Earl Dreeshen calling for the federal government to declare substance-related deaths a national health emergency, collaborate with provinces and territories, consider reforms used by other countries such as decriminalization for personal use, and to develop a comprehensive plan.

Loughlin said a broad range of services should be considered to meet individuals where they’re at.

“It’s complex. I don’t think there’s a single solution that would help everybody.”

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