As a sombre day nears, loved ones and advocates are working to remember the lives lost to overdose.
"Black Balloon Day is an international event held annually on March 6 to bring awareness to overdose deaths and to pay tribute to individuals that have lost their lives, and their friends and family," says Rebecca Rummery, the co-founder of Overdose Awareness MB.
The organization was started by two women and they are running a week-long campaign leading up to Black Balloon Day on March 6, 2021.
"For us, getting those that we've lost in our community, whether it's to overdose or other substance-related harm, it's just really important that they don't get forgotten about and work on lessening the stigma that we have in our society," says Rummery.
They put up pictures of black balloons with names of those who lost their lives to an overdose and encourage people who have lost someone to put a black balloon outside their house as well.
"It affects everybody so I think putting the faces and the names behind this epidemic that we're facing is so important."
Rummery says that in general overdoses have gone up with drugs being laced with fentanyl more and more.
"We will have 138 black balloons which signify the amount we have tragically lost in the first six months of 2020," she says.
A Personal Story of Surviving an Overdose
Tara Murray is the Program Director in Brandon at the Manitoba Women’s Centre for Adult and Teen Challenge. Before she was the Director, she was addicted to alcohol and drugs.
"I started using marijuana and alcohol really young, which I believe was a gateway as I started using prescription meds and pain killers."
While working at a fast-food restaurant in her teen years, Murray experienced an overdose.
"I blacked out in the ice machine while getting drinks for people in the restaurant. A couple of hours later I came to and my boss was firing me."
Not learning her lesson, Murray walked to the gas station across the street with the intention of phoning a friend to find more drugs. However, she passed out once more.
"I woke up to police officers waking me up, telling me they had called me an ambulance and it was about four hours later."
Initially laughing at the officers, Murray got in the ambulance as it was the first time she felt God urging her to get in the emergency vehicle.
"I ended up waking up in the hospital. They told me they had to resuscitate me in the ambulance and again at the hospital and that my heart was beating four beats per minute. The doctor actually told me I shouldn't have lived and that God must have a purpose for my life."
It took another month before Murray realized how serious the whole situation was and decided she needed to get some help.
"I just wanted to feel good and get high. I was physically addicted so if I didn't I would start going through withdrawal," says Murray, as she was not trying to end her life that night.
Now she relates to women who are in the same shoes she once was at Adult and Teen Challenge.
"It's amazing. I am able to tell them we're not going to judge you or make you feel that you were so stupid for doing that or just giving your life away."
What Concerned People/Parents Can Do
When it comes to people who have a loved one in the throes of addiction or even in a stage of life where they are looking to try drugs, each organization has their advice.
"The first thing I would say is everyone to get a naloxone kit. It is the antidote to an opioid overdose. The other thing I'd say is don't give up on your loved one," says Rummery.
Adult and Teen Challenge is a Christian organization that offers people who are addicted a safe place to overcome that addiction with a year's stay, as well as resources and groups for families who know someone who is affected by drugs and alcohol.
"Prayer is huge. My mom prayed for me for a really long time and it was her that I ended up going to when I was ready for help. Definitely get support in how not to enable and not be co-dependent. That could be ALANON or Teen Challenge has a Concerned Persons Group. Find a support group and people that are willing to walk with you," says Murray.