Overdose Awareness

Overdose Awareness

On Wednesday August 31st, over 130 people showed up at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville. They came to learn, be inspired, and help break down the stigma around overdose. It was International Overdose Awareness Day, a day to remember, without stigma, those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. It’s also a time to act.

The evening began with conversations between advocates, activists, survivors, families, first responders, politicians, and individuals who use, or have used drugs. Everyone was ready to talk about the overdose epidemic that seems to have impacted all of us in some way.

In Canada, there was a total of 29,052 apparent opioid toxicity deaths between January 2016 and December 2021. The majority of those deaths happened in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia.

(source: Government of Canada Public Health Infobase.)

We then moved into the theatre where the documentary Flood: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada was screened. This film was completed in 2019, however the themes remain relevant today across Canada, and within our own region.

Across Simcoe Muskoka, the rate of opioid-related ER visits and deaths has been significantly higher than the provincial rates since 2017.

(source: Simcoe Muskoka Health Stats.)

Since the pandemic began, the problem has worsened due to the increasingly toxic drug supply, social isolation, stress and anxiety, and changes in the availability or accessibility of services for people who use drugs.

There have been 323 opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka during the first 25 months of the pandemic, 75% higher than the 25 months prior to the start of the pandemic.

(source: Simcoe Muskoka Health Stats.)

A thought-provoking panel discussion followed the screening. The panelists included the filmmaker, advocates, survivors, first responders, police and addiction and harm reduction professionals. The discussion centered around the themes of harm reduction and other potential solutions. While some may find the topics controversial, each person in the room came there with an open mind and with a common goal: to help save lives.

Opioid Poisoning ER Visits in Simcoe Muskoka
Opioid Related Death Rate in Simcoe Muskoka (2005-2021)

What is harm reduction? “It’s treating people as human beings and meeting them where they’re at in their use of drugs…and finding ways to reduce the harms affiliated with it.”

Quote from Flood: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada

Discussion Topics

The panel guided a conversation focusing on the themes in the documentary, including:

  • Reducing the stigma around overdose
  • Prevention through education and better funding for mental health services
  • Supervised consumption sites and other harm reduction services
  • Decriminalization (Modeling an approach after other countries, like Portugal)
  • Involving people with lived experience in the creation of policy around drugs (this could mean individuals who use drugs, individuals who are in recovery and families who are struggling)


How can I help?

The panel provided suggestions that any one of us can do to make a difference:

  • Be kind: This is one simple thing that anyone can do every day. Smile at someone and say hello, do your part to make others feel worthy and loved.
  • Have a naloxone (NARCAN) kit: You may think that you don’t know anyone who is at risk of overdose, but that’s not necessarily true. You could save the life of a friend, family member, co-worker, neighbour, or passerby, by having a kit available. (Find out where you can get one in Simcoe Muskoka on the Prevent OD website, or the interactive map on Ontario.ca)
  • Reduce the stigma: Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbours about overdose. Awareness and education are key to addressing the overdose epidemic.
  • Advocate: Reach out to your member of parliament, join an advocacy group, VOTE.



If you are interested in learning more, below is a list of resources and links referenced by the panel:


We would like to extend a huge thank-you to the incredible panelists:

  • Adam D’Addario: Filmmaker, Flood: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada
  • Matt Watson: Detective Inspector, OPP
  • Jeff McWilliam: District of Muskoka Chief of Paramedics
  • Shari Dubois: Mother, survivor, Founder of Coco Bear Fundraiser and advocate for youth mental health and addiction awareness
  • Sarah Tilley: Harm Reduction Manager, Gilbert Centre
  • Michelle Van Lierop: Addictions and Counselling CMHA, Muskoka-Parry Sound
  • Yvonne Heath, survivor, founder of Love Your Life to Death and the #IJustShowedUp movement (panel facilitator)



This event could not have happened without the generous support of the sponsors:

Lake of Bays Muskoka
Lake of Bays Association
Kiwanis Club of Huntsville Muskoka
Town of Huntsville Logo
Greenstone Centre for Recovery

Watch the Documentary

Funds raised through this event will support the most vulnerable in the Muskoka region. Please consider making a donation to the Circles Muskoka program or the United Way Simcoe Muskoka Urgent Needs Fund: https://uwsimcoemuskoka.ca/give/

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