An event in Red Deer on Monday marked — Support. Don’t Punish. — the global day of action to champion harm reduction and drug policies that prioritize public health and human rights.
Organized by Rockin’ Resilience, the Red Deer chapter of the Alberta Alliance Who Educates and Advocates Responsibly (AAWEAR), the public event was held in the late morning and early afternoon near the downtown CPR walking bridge to try and bring together different populations within Red Deer.
Local AAWEAR chapter member Samantha Ginter said it was all about creating connections and breaking down stigma and barriers.
“By having community members outside of the drug-using community come and connect and talk and just be with people inside of the drug-using community, it showcases that we are human beings,” Ginter said.
“Everyone uses substances one way or another, whether that’s coffee, whether it’s sugar, or whether it’s meth. A lot of time certain substances are criminalized or looked down upon, but they all provide a benefit to some people.”
People with the community groups Turning Point, Safe Harbour Society, and Moms Stop the Harm talked to those who stopped by the small gathering where they were invited to play games to win prizes, get a temporary tattoo, and learn how use a naloxone kit to reverse opioid-related poisonings.
Ginter said judging from the response, especially from drug-using and unhoused community members, Rockin’ Resilience would definitely host another community event.
“I think the best part is people feel safe to stick around. They don’t feel like they have to hide. They come as they are,” Ginter said.
“It’s really nice to see people laugh and enjoy themselves.”
Wendy Little, member of the Red Deer chapter of Moms Stop The Harm, said harm reduction has to be one of the puzzle pieces to fix the bigger problem.
“We stand behind the whole harm reduction approach. We advocate strongly for safe supply and decriminalization for personal use,” Little said.
She said many of the people who stopped by on Monday knew where to access harm reduction supplies to keep themselves and others safe. Her son was alone when he died from an opioid-related poisoning in June 2020 in Delburne.
“We just marked his third ‘angelversary.’ They don’t get any easier, I can tell you that. They get more profound.”
As of April, Red Deer has seen 16 opioid-related deaths so far in 2023, according to the Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System which was updated on Monday. Seven people died in April, and three died in each of the first three months of the year.
Across Alberta, 613 people died in the first quarter of 2023.