Calgary

Hundreds of broken hearts drawn in chalk on Calgary streets to remember drug overdose victims

Calgarians walking downtown Monday might notice hundreds of broken hearts chalked onto the sidewalks.

'No matter what your walk of life is, you can still overdose,' says spokesperson for activist group

A volunteer with AAWEAR (Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly) draws a broken heart on the street to raise awareness about drug overdose deaths in the province. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Calgarians walking downtown Monday might notice hundreds of broken hearts chalked onto the sidewalks.

It's part of a series of events leading up to International Overdose Awareness Day that are meant to draw attention to the number of people who've died from an overdose since the pandemic started.

Volunteers with the organization Alberta Addicts Who Educate and Advocate Responsibly (AAWEAR) drew broken hearts with uplifting messages using white chalk around the downtown core.

Spokesperson Kathleen Larose says she wants people to know that the problem requires community action.

"No matter what your walk of life is, you can still overdose. And so, you know, educate yourself, get naloxone training, have a kit with you. It could happen to your neighbour. So just end the stigma," she said. 

AAWEAR volunteers do peer outreach several times a week, giving out harm reduction supplies such as needle disposal bins as well as basic needs like socks and hygiene kits.

AAWEAR spokesperson Kathleen Larose says the drug overdose problem has spiralled out of control during the pandemic. (Colleen Underwood/CBC)

Recovering addict Paul Jensen says it was initiatives aimed at harm reduction that saved his life.

"It's amazing the friendships and relationships built, and I couldn't ask for anything more," he said.

He now wants others to understand the importance of this type of service, especially as he sees so many new faces struggling on the streets this past year.

"It's hard. It's hard to see."

Alberta government reports show that more than 105 people died each month from drug poisoning between May 2020 and April 2021. In March, there were 128 deaths — almost four people every day.

The government has not provided information on how many people have died from drug poisoning since April, but Emergency Medical Services has noted a spike in overdose calls.

EMS responded to more than 2,300 opioid-related calls from January to May. Reports show that the number of calls increased by almost 18 per cent from April to May.

More events are happening Tuesday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, including a candlelight vigil at Central Memorial Park.

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