Raising awareness and understanding of the ongoing Fentanyl crisis is a top priority for Kat Wahamaa.
The project coordinator for the Mission Overdose Community Action Team and a member of Moms Stop the Harm, Wahamaa has been involved in a series of events that have been held or will be held locally.
She said people need to rethink how the understand Fentanyl and overdoses.
“It’s Fentanyl poisoning, a poisoning of the illicit drug supply. It isn’t just like an OD in terms of what we used to think of as an overdose, it’s not someone taking too much drugs, it’s an actual poisoning,” Wahamaa explained.
She compared it to the Tylenol poisoning scare that took place in the early 1980s which caused a huge panic.
“Community response was quick and it was dealt with, unlike the Fentanyl problem.”
According to Wahamaa death by Fentanyl hits a specific group harder than others, men aged between their late-20s to mid 50s. And they are dying because they are alone.
“They are dying in their condos or their SUVs or whatever.”
She said people tend to think of places like the Downtown East Side when talking about overdoses.
“That’s not whats happening. Most of those people on the street are their own first responders, administering Naloxin to others before fire and ambulance arrive. It’s like a community.”
She believes it is the illegality of drugs and the stigma of drugs that is killing people.
“It literally is killing people because people are using drugs alone… they don’t tell their family because of the stigma.
“They are ashamed to tell people they are using, they use it alone and then they die.”
Wahamaa also said some families are dealing with the grief of a loss alone. They have lost a family member to drugs but often don’t tell people their child died of an overdose.
On March 10, the Mission Overdose Community Action Team and Moms Stop the Harm co-hosted a screening of the film FLOOD: The Overdose Epidemic in Canada.
Two days later, the first information session on the forming of a Mission-based Low Barrier Chorus took place.
“Anybody can be part of the chorus. A lot of the people who are part of it though are substance users, some have lost a family member.”
The group performs in communities to spread the message of harm reduction
It raises awareness but it’s also a place for people to gather, come together for support said Wahamaa.
The group Moms Stop the Harm, which was started by three mothers who lost their kids to drugs, is another organization raising awareness of the issues.
“Unfortunately it is growing, 14,000 plus deaths in the last three years. It’s a club you don’t want to join,” she said.
It was in August 0f 2016 that Wahamaa’s son Joseph died of an overdose.
“He literally died the day before my birthday, the day before I turned 60, and his birthday is Christmas Day. So every Christmas every birthday, Mothers Day, his children’s birthdays – he had two little boys – I think that’s the thing people are missing, this is an inter-generational trauma of massive proportions.”
She said children, parents even the first responders are all impacted by these deaths and compared the Fentanyl crisis to a house on fire and the response so far has been to throw a tea cup of water on it.
“People don’t get it. The reason I’m doing all this, personally, is I don’t want people to get it, by the death of their child or family member. I don’t want them to suddenly have an epiphany and it’s the death of a family member that awoke them.”
The Mission Overdose Community Action Team is creating a new support group called Healing Hearts.
The group will meet at Fraser House on every fourth Monday of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. The first meeting is set for March 23. This is a peer grief support group for those that have lost a loved on to the overdose crisis.
For more information, contact Wahamaa at firstname.lastname@example.org.