A vigil at Vancouver's Christ Church Cathedral brought hundreds together to grieve, mourn and honour those who have died from fentanyl-related overdoses. 

Peter Elliott, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, said it was an opportunity for affected families to come together in an environment where they could mourn with others who understood their loss. 

"Some families are embarrassed. They don't know what to say," Elliot said.

"The notion of being addicted to drugs, or [overdosing] on drugs, carries with it a whole lot of negative judgement. In nearly every case, these are people who didn't intentionally seek to do anything.

"They made a bad choice, but not a choice that should have resulted in their death."

He said Vancouver needs to treat the crisis, declared a public health emergency 13 months ago, in the same way as the AIDS crisis by bringing people out of the shadows.

"So many families were embarrassed at first ... Slowly, the stories got to be told by naming folks, by moving away from stigma.

"We have to have a similar kind of community response, where names can be named, and families can grieve publicly." 

Frontline workers fatigued

The event, which had participants from a number of different faiths and First Nations, was also for frontline workers.

"Staff are beleaguered," said Elliott. 

"The sheer volume of deaths they see, many of whom are people who live close to the street, and have not had anyone to grieve for them."

It was a point echoed by Elise Durante, a clinical coordinator at St. Paul's Hospital.

"For so many of us, this kind of work, we do it with a lot of heart. I want to preserve my own, and my team's heart in this work," Durante said.

"It weighs heavy on us, all these losses, and it's just getting worse. Sometimes coming together as a community, and recognizing that loss in a spiritual way, an interfaith way, really helps." 

The number of fentanyl-detected deaths in B.C. rose from 151 in 2015 to 575 in 2016, according to the B.C. Coroners Service. It estimates there have been 139 in the first three months of 2017.