It was an eerie coincidence.
As Okanagan Nation Alliance wellness manager Jennifer Lewis made final preparations for Wednesday’s Overdose Awareness Day march, she read a chilling Facebook post by her cousin.
“He said he died five times last night (from drug use),” said Lewis.
“He’s not joking. He probably did die five times and come back to life. He also said one of these days he won’t be so lucky.”
It’s an alarming scenario that’s all too common with drug addicts and users, be they Aboriginal or non-Indigenous — although First Nations people are four times more likely to die of an opioid overdose.
That fact prompted the alliance, which represents eight bands in the Southern Interior, to launch the Purple Ribbon Campaign in the run-up to International Overdose Awareness Day on Saturday.
The purple ribbon is the symbol for opioid crisis awareness.
Wednesday’s march saw about 50 Indigenous people dressed in purple walk across the William R. Bennett Bridge at 8:30 a.m., waving signs, ribbons and balloons.
Most of the signs featured the campaign’s main message, #EndOverdose.
The morning rush hour timing was chosen to expose as many drivers and passengers to the message as possible.
“There’s definitely a stigma attached to an overdose death,” said Lewis.
“Too many families suffer in silence. We have to come up with creative ways to deal with addictions and overdose.”
It all starts with awareness like the Purple Ribbon Campaign is establishing.
“Of course, prevention of drug addiction is the focus long term,” said Lewis.
“But the drug problem is getting worse, not better, so we have to also focus on short-term help for drug users, such as naloxone (anti-overdose kits) and programs to fight addiction.”
The march ended in Kelowna’s City Park, where people gathered to share stories of addiction and hope, and to access resources for help and support.
For the rest of the day, the campaign’s caravan of cars festooned with purple ribbons drove to various locations to raise awareness of the drug crisis and overdoses. Some of the stops included the Upper Room Mission in Vernon, the Okanagan Indian Band’s Golden Eagle Building in Vernon, the Upper Nicola Band office in Merritt and Merritt’s Centennial Park.
On Tuesday, cars were at a drive-through breakfast at the Osoyoos Indian Band office, a lunch with the Lower Similkameen Indian Band, a gathering at Gyro Park in Penticton, the Penticton Indian Band Hall and the Aaron Lezard Memorial, commemorating the 22-year-old man who died of a fentanyl overdose last year.