British Columbia

'It's not about me': Vancouver overdose activist among those honoured at city hall

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services honour ten citizens and groups for selfless acts of bravery and courage. Longtime overdose activist and community advocate Sarah Blyth and her Overdose Prevention Society were among the recipients.

Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services honour ten citizens and groups for selfless acts of bravery

Sarah Blyth, centre, and volunteers from the Overdose Prevention Society accepted commendations at a ceremony held by Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Sarah Blyth's year-long fight against the opioid crisis hasn't technically been legal — but Vancouver's first responders admit the city would be a darker place if she wasn't there.

Blyth co-founded the Overdose Prevention Society, and along with a group of volunteers, has helped stopped countless overdoses from turning deadly in Vancouver's Downtown East Side by setting up unsanctioned, pop-up supervised injection sites.

Those sites don't have the legal exemptions that Vancouver's two supervised injection sites have been granted.

"Our site has saved over 1,000 lives," Blyth told CBC News. "We need these across Canada."

According to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services (VFRS), for every naloxone injection first responders deliver in the city, volunteers in the community inject 100 more.

That's why the VFRS awarded both Blyth and the Overdose Prevention Society awards Friday at Vancouver City Hall as part of the annual Citizen Commendation Ceremony.

Ten awards were handed out in total to people and organizations that have saved lives in times of crisis.

Initially, upon hearing she would be receiving an award, Blyth was reluctant.

"It's not about me," she said. "We're a team of people, we've come together to save lives together. It couldn't be done by one person alone. It's a team effort, and we need eachother."

Crisis continues

More than 1,000 people have died in B.C. from drug overdose this year, a number that already exceeds the 2016 total.

"We've lost our friends, and even some of our team members," she said.

Blyth says the effectiveness of pop-up sites like those created by the Overdose Prevention Society, as well as the success of medical heroin treatment, are indicators that the crisis could be curbed.

"If we gave people safe access to drugs at our site, we would save even more lives. We wouldn't even have overdoses to begin with.

"We wouldn't have to phone the fire department, we wouldn't have to phone the ambulance, they wouldn't have to go to the hospital, and they wouldn't be sitting in morgues."