Lives can be saved by reducing the stigma around drug overdose and making an overdose-reversing drug more readily available, according to people at a rally in downtown Ottawa Friday.

The rally, held before Sunday’s International Overdose Awareness Day, commemorated 32 people killed by drug overdoses in Ottawa over the last year by laying out 32 pairs of shoes on the Human Rights Monument.

Jordon MacLean said he’s survived an overdose and stopped using six years ago, but it was hard to get clean when he was being judged for his addiction.

"Drugs end up being your best friend, they become like a warm blanket on a cold day," he said.

"It's that ‘ah’ moment of ‘This is good for me. I can trust it. It doesn't judge me.'"

"It's people like me who are also vulnerable to overdose. It's not just people who are living on the margins of society," said Rob Boyd of the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre.

"This is truly an issue that affects all Canadians, all people in Ottawa, because you don't have to be an injection drug user to be at risk of overdose."

'When they feel cared about, then they want to change'

Attendees said more of these deaths can be avoided by being more compassionate to people addicted to drugs.

Donna May’s daughter died of an opioid overdose two years ago.

"That's all my daughter asked for," she said of her daughter's desire for compassion.

"She wasn't given it by myself, the family, the community. And it cost her her life."

Jordon MacLean Drug Overdose Rally

Jordon MacLean says he's overdosed on drugs but has been clean for more than six years. (CBC)

"If we want a safe community and a healthy community, we have to care about these people. Because when they feel cared about, then they want to change and we can all make a difference that way," MacLean said.

Another focus of the rally was to push for wider availability of the drug naloxone, which can reverse opioid overdoses.

Ottawa paramedics used the drug during 548 overdose calls in 2013, 33 per cent more than the year before. It’s also available with a prescription.

Another rally is planned on Parliament Hill for Sept. 30.