Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
International Overdose Awareness day was recognized Aug. 31, and a resident is hoping to destroy the stigma around drug use in the city.
Chad Cawson has been running Winnipeg’s Annual Overdose Awareness Walk for three years. For this year’s event, Cawson will be partnering with another activist, rebranding it to A Walk for J: Steps to Overdose Awareness.
Cawson is moving to Thailand in November. He wanted to find a way to keep the walk going, even though he won’t be in the country, so he’s enlisted Jody Wasserman, a Komarno, Man., resident who lost her brother to a drug overdose in 2019.
Cawson’s sister, Jeni, died from an overdose several years ago. He started the walk as a way to cope with the despair, while reminding residents to treat people who battle addictions with compassion and understanding.
Unfortunately, Cawson couldn’t organize the walk normally this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, he’s posting online, encouraging residents to document their own walk to end the stigma towards drug overdoses in the city.
Cawson said overdose awareness is still a very important topic, especially during the pandemic.
"From what I’ve heard … I know that (COVID-19) has affected the amount of drugs on the street. It’s really affected people’s mental health, mental health and drug (use) go hand in hand," Cawson said. "I would almost bet that (overdoses) have gone up during (the pandemic.) Many people turn to drugs because they’re trying to cope with depression, anxiety, some kind of pain … If they were struggling before, this might push people over the edge and push them towards drug use."
Overdose cases have spiked since the onset of COVID-19. According to WFPS 911 call data, there was a 66 per cent increase in calls related to crystal meth and opioids in April and May. In the same time period, paramedics reported having to use Naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, 70 per cent more.
Cawson thinks part of the problem is the massive stigma around drug users. He started the overdose awareness walks to help change the conversation around overdoses, challenging the narrative that drug users are "bad people who deserve what happens to them."
Wasserman has a similar story. Her brother, Josh, lost his battle with addiction in 2019. After his death, she vowed to never let anyone else go through that kind of grief.
She stressed that without money to burn, there isn’t much support for addicts trying to heal.
"Josh Zeller, my older brother, was 36 when we lost him ... to an accidental overdose. He had struggled for years, in the last year of his life, he was trying really hard to get help," Wasserman said.
"It’s not easy to get help if you don’t have thousands of dollars ... He’d be put on so many waitlists. Four days before he died, he got put on a waitlist for four to six weeks. He died four days later."
Wassermand said it’s been 554 days since he died. For her, it’s like it happened yesterday.
Cawson is encouraging residents to post videos and photos of their walk, while following health guidelines. For more information, find A Walk For J: Steps to Overdose Awareness on Facebook and Instagram.
Community journalist — The Metro
Justin Luschinski is the community journalist for The Metro. Email him at email@example.com
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