Manitoba

Winnipegger channels loss of sister into awareness walk for International Overdose Awareness Day

Friday is International Overdose Awareness Day, and for many like Chadd Cawson that means remembering loved ones whose lives were tragically cut short, and spreading addiction awareness in hopes of preventing similar deaths.

Drop the Needle walk to bring families, friends together to remember lost loved ones, challenge stigma

A series of purple-themed events are happening in Winnipeg Friday to mark International Overdose Awareness Day. (Submitted by Chris Dobbs)

Friday is International Overdose Awareness Day, and for many like Chadd Cawson that means remembering loved ones whose lives were tragically cut short, and spreading addiction awareness in hopes of preventing similar deaths.

Cawson lost his sister to an overdose in June of 2017. She was living in Florida at the time.

"It was really hard on me, she was kind of like my best friend," he said. "It was kind of a bit of a dark year."

Though the past 14 months have been challenging coping with her death, in July Cawson felt compelled to do something positive in his sister's memory, especially as Winnipeg continues to grapple with meth and opioid addictions issues.

He organized the Drop the Needle walk, one of several events taking place Friday in Winnipeg to reduce stigma associated with addiction, drug-related overdoses and death.

A rally is taking place at noon at City Hall where, and another event from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Vimy Arena in support of the Bruce Oake Recovery Centre, an addiction treatment facility slated to take over the arena space that has drawn criticism from people in the neighbourhood.

At 7 p.m., participants of the 3½​-kilometre, 45-minute Drop the Needle walk are expected to meet at the big Winnipeg sign at The Forks, which will be lit up in purple as part of the event.

The walk gets underway at 8 p.m. and Cawson and others will be handing out purple glow sticks to anyone who wants to blend in.

Cawson says he has been encouraged by the outpouring of support in the lead up to the walk. 

"In the beginning I thought it might just be for my own healing and maybe have some people that knew me and knew my sister would come out," he said. "Now it seems it's gained a lot of attention."

"It's been pretty overwhelming in a good way, people reaching out to me just saying thank you."

Having the walk near the Red River adds an even more special element to Cawson and memories of his sister.

"She loved the beach, loved the water. I think she would enjoy this."

Whether or not you can make it out to the walk, Cawson said the important message on International Overdose Awareness Day is that addiction and overdoses happen everyday to people from all walks of life.

"Everyone is fighting their own battle, " he said. "The major thing for addiction, it's not about the drugs itself, it's more or less just trying to escape that pain or trauma that someone might be going through."

More information about the walk is available on Facebook.

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