Gathering shows community support for people impacted by overdose

West Nipissing Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon was invited to speak to the gathered crowd on International Overdose Awareness Day. The mayor emphasized the importance of community as the gathering was in itself an illustration that no one is alone in the face of addiction and overdose.

Christian Gammon-Roy


Over 30 people gathered in Sturgeon Falls’ downtown fountain park, where last year a plaque was unveiled for Overdose Awareness Day. This August 31 marked the second time that the West Nipissing Community Health Centre (WNCHC) and the West Nipissing General Hospital (WNGH)’s Alliance Centre partnered to organize a ceremony at the site. The crowd was a mix of community members and representatives of local healthcare organisations, such as hospital CEO Sue Lebeau and WNCHC Executive Director Guy Robichaud. It was once again a very emotional ceremony that outlined the impacts of drug overdose, but also showed that people from all over the community are willing to come together in support of those affected.

“It felt heartening to witness our community coming together to raise awareness and support those affected by overdose in our community. The turnout reflects our collective commitment to combating overdoses and saving lives,” says Renée Vaillancourt, WNCHC Director of Community Health Program and one of the planning committee members for the event.

Vaillancourt opened the ceremony, then Michael Taylor of the Alliance Centre did a land acknowledgement. The two were followed by Nipissing First Nation representatives Evelyn McLeod, who said some prayers, and Marianne Van Beek, who performed traditional songs. After a minute of silence, West Nipissing Mayor Kathleen Thorne Rochon was invited to speak on behalf of the municipality.

The ceremony then got very emotional when Jennifer O’Byrn was invited to share her own personal experiences and the struggles of raising a child alone after her partner’s death from overdose. “Most people who lose a battle to overdose never saw it coming. I’m sure you are thinking to yourself that every addict should know the risks associated to using cocaine, crack, fentanyl, crystal meth, or whatever the drug of use is. The truth is, from personal experience, those risks are not on your mind at all when you can’t focus, think, or even function without your next high. Whether you are strong, educated, intelligent, or assume addiction will never control you, it can take your last breath,” described O’Byrn.

The short ceremony ended with another prayer and song from McLeod and Van Beek, after which attendees were invited to chat with representatives of the Alliance Centre and WNCHC. The Alliance Centre even had information on naloxone kits. Like last year, purple painted sticks were given to anyone who wanted to write a message of hope or remembrance and plant it in the garden around the plaque. Sage flower seeds were also handed out, as purple is the colour of Overdose Awareness Day. The remaining seeds were to be given to the Sturgeon Falls Beautification Committee for them to plant around town afterwards.

This year’s Overdose Awareness Day ceremony was somewhat of a contrast from last year’s sombre, overcast event. While being just as emotional, the higher attendance and sunshine brightened the day and emphasized the tone of hope and support. As the event continues to happen annually, and the crowd grows, awareness will likely increase, which is the goal. For those suffering from addiction, it hopefully shows that their community is willing to offer help, notably through services such as the Alliance Centre.

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