Public exhibition of shoes tied with purple ribbon on the Burrard Bridge

Remember, reflect, and take action this International Overdose Awareness Day

This is a crisis. Today is an important day to remember the loved ones that have been lost, to work together to combat stigma around drug use, and to make safe supply a reliable part of our health care response.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart

August 30 2020 –

As overdose deaths in BC exceed 100 for the fifth month running, we mark the 20th annual International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31 and encourage everyone to join us in highlighting that COVID-19 is not the only public health emergency currently impacting BC. 

Since the start of the pandemic, overdose deaths in the province have increased significantly with deaths caused by illicit drug toxicity reaching their highest monthly totals on record from May to July, 2020. 

Tomorrow, on International Overdose Awareness Day, we'll take a number of steps to remember family, including chosen family members, who have tragically lost their lives to overdose and drug poisoning in our city. In our thoughts, we also include those who mourn the loss of their loved ones as a result of overdose.

“We are seeing record numbers of deaths due to a poisoned drug supply not just in our city, but across the province. In BC, 175 friends and neighbours tragically lost their lives in July,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart. “This is a crisis. Today is an important day to remember the loved ones that have been lost, to work together to combat stigma around drug use, and to make safe supply a reliable part of our health care response."

We remain a strong advocate for establishing an accessible, safe supply of drugs to minimize the risk created by the toxic drug supply that is contaminated by fentanyl, carfentanil, and benzodiazepines. 

In partnership with health partners and those with lived experience, the City’s Community Action Team continues to provide supports to individuals experiencing drug addictions and champion the need for drug policy reform, harm reduction support and accessibility to treatment and cultural healing approaches.

Join us in commemorating, raising awareness, and taking action

This International Overdose Awareness Day, we invite all residents and workers in Vancouver, including health professionals, to support their elected provincial and federal representatives to provide ways for health professionals and their associations to accelerate access to safe supply. 

We're extremely grateful for all of the community organizations who are doing incredible work advocating for drug reform and supporting those impacted by overdose.

Commemorative art piece

The Overdose Prevention Society (OPS), in partnership with the City, is creating an interactive temporary mural at Carnegie Community Centre which will be up until late fall. The commemorative piece has been created by local artist Smokey D to remember those who have lost their lives to overdoses during the opioid crisis. Residents are encouraged to add names of loved ones who have died to the mural.

Speaking about the initiative, Trey Agnew, Manager of OPS, said: “On International Overdose Awareness Day it's so important for family and friends recognize those we have lost and also to remind people that we are still in the middle of a crisis situation. We hope this memorial provides a place for people to come and remember those we have lost.”

Awareness raising events

Moms Stop the Harm, a network of families across Canada who have been impacted by fatal drug overdoses, are organizing awareness raising events, including:

  • Lost “Soles”: Gone Too Soon - a public exhibition of shoes tied with purple ribbon that is lining the west side pedestrian walkway of the Burrard Bridge from August 30 to September 1. The display commemorates those who have lost their lives in B.C. between May and July, 2020. 
  • An electronic billboard at West Pender and Abbott Street displaying photograph tributes to individuals who have tragically lost their lives to overdose. The display will be visible until September 7.
  • A livestreamed Candlelit Vigil of Remembrance  at 7pm PST on August 31.

Speaking about the importance of their work, Deb Bailey from MSTH said: “No one needs to die from addiction. People are dying mainly due to the tainted street supply. We support all actions that move towards a safer supply of drugs in order to stop the deaths. We have lost so many of our loved ones, our children, siblings, parents and we are shocked at the number of deaths in recent months. I lost my daughter five years ago at the beginning of the overdose crisis and the fact that we are still losing so many people is a tragedy of our times.”

Take action

We encourage residents to support the initiatives listed above and help raise awareness of drug-related death, combat the stigma surrounding it, and share our video advocating for safe supply.

Watch and share our video