Kayla Smith from SafeLink stands beside the memorial garden with each flag representing a life lost too soon in the years since stats started being kept. MHN PHOTO SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Medicine Hat Drug Coalition held its Overdose Awareness Day event in the library courtyard on Thursday evening, its sixth year honouring the day in Medicine Hat, welcoming the largest turnout yet.

Kayla Smith is a harm reduction outreach worker with SafeLink Alberta and a registered social worker. She’s been with SafeLink for more than a year, starting as a practicum student before moving into a full-time position. She’s been working in substance use within the Hat community for about four years and was asked to be the MC for the event.

“I personally lost over a dozen clients in the past four years alone and many of my coworkers are my friends,” Smith said. “It’s a way for the community to grieve together because lots of people don’t want to talk about the opioid poisoning crisis. They would prefer to pretend it’s not happening.

“Gathering together gives us a place where we can share our grief and feel seen and be in community in a way that can feel inaccessible at times, because it’s a such a shameful and stigmatized thing.”

There was a smudging table and memorial garden, while several community organizations were on hand with information and pamphlets, along with musicians, drummers and a bagpipe player. Mayor Linnsie Clark and Couns. Andy McGrogan and Alison Van Dyke were also there.

SafeLink staff were providing injectable naloxone training and members of the MHDC were doing training with nasal Narcan, which is normally $150 to buy but was being provided for free at the event. Narcan, or naloxone, is easier to administer for those who are uncomfortable with needles. More than 100 people received training and a free kit.

After a barbecue, during which organizers had to rush off for more burgers o feed the larger-than-expected crowd, came the the annual open mic session. This gives attendees a chance to to sing, give a reading or express their feelings and grief by talking about lost loved ones.

“It’s an important event and I hope lots of people take the time to learn what the drug poisoning crisis is and how it’s impacting our community and ways that we can provide compassionate care. People who use drugs in our community are your neighbours,” said Smith.

SafeLink is a harm reduction organization based in Medicine Hat and Calgary that provides safer-use supplies as well as safer-sex supplies, along with education around sexually transmitted and blood borne infections. They connect people to resources and have a drop-in for anyone to come without expectations placed on them.

For more information, visit the Medicine Hat Drug Coalition Facebook page or the SafeLink website (https://safelinkalberta.ca/).

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 06, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta

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