“It could be everyone’s child”: Christmas tree at KGH draws attention to the opioid crisis

Members of Moms Stop the Harm put up a Christmas tree at Kelowna General Hospital Friday morning.

On the tree are pictures and names of relatives who have died from poisoned drugs.

The white and purple “Tree of Hope” is designed to raise awareness of the opioid crisis and combat the stigma of drug addiction, which can make it difficult for people to seek help.

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“We just hope to create awareness that the opioid crisis is indeed a medical emergency. What better place to show this than in a medical facility, ”said Helen Jennens of Moms Stop the Harm.

“We want people to realize that drug harm can happen to anyone. It could be anyone’s child. We work really hard on prevention and education so that children don’t die. “

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Losing two sons to drug poisoning in 2011 and 2016, Jennens says it is devastating to see new faces and names every year.

“Every new ball that comes up is a heartbroken family,” Jennens said.

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Interior Health’s medical health officer, Dr. Silvina Mema said tackling stigma is an integral part of tackling the overdose crisis.

“There is a widespread belief that people who die from an overdose choose to use substances, and it is really up to them to find ways to recover and avoid using illegal substances. People need to understand that this is not true. In many situations, drug use is not an option. it’s a motivation that is driven by that person’s circumstances and their life situation, ”said Mema.

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The Christmas tree is rising as BC posts its worst month for illegal drug deaths ever.

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On Thursday, the provincial coroner released numbers showing there were 201 illegal drug deaths in October – 23 of them in the Okanagan.

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In the first ten months of this year, 60 people died in Kelowna and 33 in Vernon. That’s more drug deaths than Vernon has seen in a single year in the past decade.

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“We have to ensure a safe supply. We have to take the toxic drugs off the market. Even though [BC has] requests were made to decriminalize small amounts … for personal use these are still toxic drugs. You are still fatal. That doesn’t mean it’s any safer, “Jennens said.

“Until we have a recovery system in place, we must ensure safer care and prevent people from dying because a dead person cannot recover.”

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Mema advises Interior Health has an injectable opioid agonist (iOAT) treatment program.

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“This is a way of accessing drugs that won’t cause poisoning or with uncertainty about what … is in that stash,” said Mema.

Jennens said that if iOAT is widely used, it can serve as a safe supply, but indicates that some lower mainland patients have been given access to prescription heroin.


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In July, the province announced that it would gradually introduce a mandatory policy for safer deliveries.

Between March 2020 and October 2021, 1,590 people inland received medication as part of the first phase of the province’s safe care program, the province said.

“Interior Health is currently working with all other health authorities to implement the second phase of the plan for safe care in their region. We will have more information on this in the New Year, ”the Minister of Mental Health and Addiction said in a statement.

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