'So many people are dying': Calgarians rally for action on opioid crisis

About 40 Calgarians took part in a national day of action on the opioid overdose crisis. In Alberta, 343 people died from using fentayl in 2016.

About 40 people gathered in downtown Calgary as part of a national day of action on the overdose crisis

Calgary day of action on fentanyl 0:46

Lauren Marshall lost her 22-year-old son, Graham, just four months ago. He was one of 343 Albertans who died from using fentanyl in 2016.

"He was our only child. So now all I can do is advocate for other people so their children don't die," she said.

On Tuesday, Marshall stood with about 40 people in downtown Calgary as part of a national day of action on the overdose crisis, organized by the Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs.

Graham became addicted to OxyContin about four years ago, his mother said. When the drug was discontinued, addicts went in search of something similar and fentanyl became Graham's substitute.

"He had treatment, these drugs seemed to be something that are so difficult to get over," Marshall said. "He had a lot of treatment. He was one of the lucky ones, but the relapses killed him."

"So many people are dying all across this country and it's time that the government steps up and does more than what they're doing."

Laura Marshall's only child died four months ago of a fentanyl overdose. She was one of about 40 Calgarians who took part in a national day of action on the overdose crisis. (CBC)

Supervised consumption sites a step

The Canadian Association of People Who Use Drugs organized rallies in six other Canadian cities to demand the federal government revise its approach to the opioid and fentanyl crisis. 

Arsh Kaur Dhaliwal, the chair of the Calgary Harm Intervention and Prevention task force, said supervised consumption sites are just one way the government can start to fight the opioid crisis.

"Opiates have been here for many years. However, the types of opiates that are here and the fact that they are laced with fentanyl, and at many times people who are consuming drugs are unaware that fentanyl is in their products, is why this crisis has occurred at such an exponential rate," she said.

Wande Wood worked in mental health and addiction for 25 years. She said she has seen crises before, but recently the number of deaths have gone up exponentially because of the dangers of fentanyl and carfentanil.

"There is so much stigma around drug use and substance abuse. What people don't realize is these are people that often have long histories of trauma, they've been marginalized. It's hard to address completely because then we have to look at social determinants of health," she said.

"It's a really broad problem that's difficult to tackle, but we've got to start somewhere."