Michelle Hansen, a licensed practical nurse at Turning Point was one many volunteers on hand at the site Tuesday during International Overdose Prevention Day. Turning Point typically holds a larger scale event to recognize those who have been lost due to overdoses, but with increasing COVID-19 cases, the organization set up a memorial tree for those who are grieving to remember loved ones they have lost. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Michelle Hansen, a licensed practical nurse at Turning Point was one many volunteers on hand at the site Tuesday during International Overdose Prevention Day. Turning Point typically holds a larger scale event to recognize those who have been lost due to overdoses, but with increasing COVID-19 cases, the organization set up a memorial tree for those who are grieving to remember loved ones they have lost. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Turning Point recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day with memorial tree

Organization scaled back original plans because of COVID-19 pandemic

Turning Point provided Red Deerians with an opportunity to acknowledge the grief and tragedy that comes to family and friends after an overdose on Tuesday.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, in lieu of a large-scale event due to rising COVID-19 cases, the organization handed out cupcakes at its downtown site and set up an overdose memorial tree so community members can write down the name of a loved one and place it on the tree.

“We just want to make people aware of this issue, it’s bigger than we think it is. It impacts more people than we realize and we can all make a big difference just by being aware of it,” said Stacy Carmichael, executive director with Turning Point.

The organization had originally planned to hold its Leah’s Light 5K walk/run on Saturday but cancelled it because of the COVID-19 situation in the region.

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Carmichael said there were still plenty of family members that came out Tuesday to remember loved ones they have lost.

“We had mothers, aunts, sisters, brothers, friends all through the doors, specifically because of the memorial tree but that doesn’t negate the fact that we have moms, dads, brothers, sisters, cousins (here) every day, it’s a bigger issue than people think… it’s a terrible thing that’s happening,” Carmichael said.

In Canada, overdose fatality rates have been on a steady incline for several years but saw a drastic spike in 2020. There were more than 6,200 opioid-related deaths country-wide last year, with over 1,000 in the province and more than 50 in Red Deer alone.

According to the Government of Alberta, the largest contributing factor to this rise was the COVID-19 lockdowns that resulted in limited access to overdose prevention supports and other essential services.

In July this year, Red Deer’s Overdose Prevention Site (OPS) had a total of 3,583 visits.

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Of these, 134 suspected opioid overdose reversals took place. Staff also supported clients through 294 referrals to health, community, and recovery-oriented services.

“COVID has definitely been a burden for everybody. Staff, clients and community partners. Just taking something that’s already tricky and made it that much worse,” Carmichael said.

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