Friends and family members of the 25 people who died of overdoses this summer gathered to remember their lost loved ones and to demand action on projects that can save lives.

Eric Plourde

“I've lost a lot of friends," said Éric Plourde (left), a drug outreach worker and a writer for L'Injecteur magazine. He spoke to the small crowd gathered at Place Emilie-Gamelin along with Rémi Pelletier, another outreach worker who had travelled from Abitibi-Témiscamingue to attend the vigil. (CBC)

Since May, there have been 83 overdoses and 25 deaths, with the bulk of them occurring in May and June. 

For André Rainville, the loss of his friend is a fresh, painful memory.

His friend was part of a methadone program and was permitted to have methadone at home instead of having to take it at the pharmacy.

He hadn't heard from her for a few days, and so he went to her apartment to check on her.

He found her lifeless body there. She had died six days prior, Rainville said.

"I never thought she would do that," he said. He knew she was struggling to get clean from a heroin addiction and blames himself for not doing more to help her.

His friend's story is the story of thousands of Canadians who die every year from drug overdoses.

Users aren't 'garbage of society'

“I've lost a lot of friends," said Éric Plourde, a drug outreach worker and a writer for L'Injecteur magazine.

'It’s important to remember that each drug addict is the son or daughter of somebody.'- Éric Plourde, drug outreach worker and L'Injecteur writer

He said that when someone dies of an illness like cancer, the family will put a notice in the newspaper and suggest funds go to a charitable organization. 

"We never see that for drug users who die," he said. He owed it, at least partly, to a common perception that drug users are the "garbage of society."

He said the nuance is in the perception that people don't choose to get sick, but they do choose to take drugs. 

"A lot of people think if you're an addict, you choose to be an addict. But it's not like that that it works," Plourde said.

"It’s important to remember that each drug addict is the son or daughter of somebody," he continued.

Naloxone now

Plourde said many of the 25 people who died could have been saved had naloxone, an injectable antidote to opiate overdoses, been available to intervention workers and paramedics.

Guy-Pierre Lévesque

Guy-Pierre Lévesque said naloxone access has been in the works for years, but the media coverage of this summer's fatal overdoses helped speed things up at the government level. (CBC)

Naloxone

Naloxone is an antidote used to stop opiate overdoses. It is only available in hospitals and only a small handful of paramedics have been trained to use it. However, many people working public health think it should be made readily available to people who use opiates. (CBC)

The drug is proven to stop the effects of an overdose temporarily — long enough to call 911 and get the person to a hospital.

"It would be so simple to give naloxone to first-responders. [Right now] when you call 911, there’s not a lot of paramedics that have naloxone," he said.

Earlier this summer, Quebec's health minister announced there was a plan to train more paramedics in using the antidote effectively.

Guy-Pierre Lévesque is the founder of Méta d'Âme, an organization dedicated to helping people with drug dependencies.

He said the recent rash of drug-related deaths — and extensive media coverage about them — helped fast-track government action of equipping more people with naloxone.

He expects kits will be available to intervention workers in the near future. He said that ideally, drug users would also receive training in how to use naloxone to treat an overdose so that they can perform it on friends if necessary.

Manon Massé, Québec Solidaire MNA for the downtown district of Ste-Marie-St-Jacques, said naloxone is a bit piece of the puzzle, but so are supervised injection sites.

She said she intends to speak to Health Minister Gaétan Barrette about speeding up the process of getting the three fixed SIS sites and one mobile site that have been promised up and running in Montreal's downtown area. 

"It's time," Massé said.