Thinking of his two friends who recently died of drug overdoses, Dan Gibbs said he loves them and wishes he could spend more time with them.
“A friend was doing cocaine and there was fentanyl in the cocaine and she went to bed and didn’t wake up. She left behind a son and a brother and many friends who will miss her,” he said.
Gibbs is one of many people in Windsor-Essex who have suffered the loss of loved ones due to drug overdoses.
Harm reduction organization Pozitive Pathways is giving the community a new online space to remember them.
On a website launched on Tuesday, people shared messages about friends and family who have overdosed.
The online memorial already has 15 reports as of Thursday afternoon.
Gibbs hasn’t added anything to the memorial, but the project strikes a deeply personal note – Friday marks his 90th day of recovery after spending the last 20 years on and off drugs.
Had he continued as he was, Gibbs said he wasn’t sure he would be alive today and might have been one of the names on the online site.
During the pandemic, Gibbs said he was at rock bottom and knew he needed help.
“I would just wake up every morning and the first thing on my mind was to consume, and if I couldn’t think of a way to consume, I just didn’t feel like I wanted to be alive anymore, and that’s pretty sad just the right place,” he told CBC News.
Since May he has been enrolled with Hand in Hand Support, a non-profit based in Windsor that provides substance abuse and mental health recovery programs.
This week, the Windsor-Essex Community Opioid & Substance Strategy (WECOSS) issued its sixth alert for 2022 related to high numbers of opioid-related emergency room visits and overdoses, as well as substance-related 911 calls.
According to the latest data from Ontario Health, there were 77 opioid-related deaths in Windsor-Essex last year – 10 of those deaths are yet to be confirmed.
Meanwhile, 71 deaths were reported in 2020.
Last year there were also 505 emergency room visits related to opioid use in Windsor-Essex, compared with 358 the year before.
“It’s not good out there,” said Claire Venet-Rogers, the harm reduction education coordinator at Pozitive Pathways.
Online memorial creates space for mourning
Messages in the online memorial paint a picture of some of the people the community has lost.
“I think about what you would do, who you would be, and what we could do together,” reads one of the messages in memory of Anon.
Another dedicated to Dylan C. reads, “You did your best to be a good father and you were loved by so many people. rest in peace xx.”
Last names are not shared to protect people’s privacy, Pozitive Pathways said.
It’s a very scary decision for someone with an active addiction, but if we can give them the resources to support them, they will change when they are ready.-Dan Gibbs
“It really hit me when I started seeing this news. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, of course that’s why I do the work I do,'” Venet-Rogers said.
“These are the faces and the people behind the work we do… We cannot talk about International Overdose Awareness Day without talking about the stigma these people face.
“Often the friends and families of people who have died from an overdose feel they have no space, or at least no public space, where they can grieve and share those feelings.”
Looking at the wall of comments and names, Gibbs said it was a good way to honor someone’s life.
His message to people in the community who know someone struggling with addiction is to “treat them with care and kindness.”
“The longer we can keep someone alive, the more opportunity they will have to change if they are ready,” he said.
“It’s a very scary decision for someone who has an active addiction, but if we can give them the resources for support, then they will change when they are ready.”
Gibbs said he was starting to work part-time again and was concentrating on making music.
Pozitive Pathways also marks International Overdose Awareness Day with a free session explaining opioids and including naloxone education on August 31st.