Dozens in Vancouver 'lie in' to draw attention to fentanyl crisis
'It feels like every few days I hear about another death; it's been people close to me, family'
As many as 60 people lie on the grass surrounding the Cenotaph at Vancouver's Victory Square Park. They lie silently, many holding a flower, to mark the loss of a loved one.
Some demonstrators hold several pieces of paper, each bearing a name. Many people wield signs with statistics and messages about the rising death toll blamed on the fentanyl overdose crisis.
Thursday's demonstration — or "lie in" — was organized by Charlie Hannah and Izzi Kearns, both of whom know several people who have been killed by drugs.
The event was precipitated by news of a couple of deaths, according to Hannah.
She said two weeks ago her friend died, and then last week she heard a CBC Radio story about another overdose victim, Marnie Crassweller. Hannah knew Crassweller but hadn't heard she had died in November.
"It feels like every few days I hear about another death. It's been people close to me, family," said Hannah, adding that she knows seven people who have died this year alone.
"It's such a huge stress on our city, individuals, the systems, first responders, support workers, family and friends, drug users themselves," she said. "It's really dire."
Kearns was drawn into the protest organizing effort by Hannah but has also personally felt the burden of the overdose crisis.
She works in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside as a support worker but has been on leave for the past six weeks due to stress.
"People are starting to speak about and recognize support workers and the second ring around the epicentre of those who are affected," said Kearns. "Like, people are bringing up PTSD."
"The trauma that I've felt from losing friends … it's inherited trauma from communities that also experience it much more deeply and much more consistently," she said.
Hannah says she's overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis.
"It feels very dire and it doesn't feel like there are any solutions. Narcan [the overdose reversing drug] is a Band-Aid," she said.
But for Kearns, the problem isn't the lack of a solution, it's the lack of action.
"There are evidence-based solutions, and one of them is diacetylmorphine — prescription heroin — and that is partially legalized, and there's no reason at this point why we can't see more action on that," she said.
"There are less than 200 people who are accessing prescription heroin. It's science. This is an ideological war at this point and it's really, really damaging to so many communities to deny that and pretend that it doesn't require immediate action.
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For both Hannah and Kearns, organizing Thursday's demonstration was an outlet. It came with the feeling that they were able to do something.
"This is a peaceful and quiet demonstration, and I don't know, I think it speaks volumes," said Hannah.
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