‘These are our children’: How ribbon displays are honouring overdose deaths

WINNIPEG — August marks Overdose Awareness Month and a group of Manitobans got an early start to the campaign.

Arlene Last-Kolb, the co-founder of Overdose Awareness Manitoba, took to Churchill Drive last week to start the organization’s purple ribbon campaign.

“The purple ribbon campaign is a way to bring awareness and honour those who died too soon from drug-related deaths,” said Last-Kolb.

Now in its fourth year, the campaign commemorates those who passed away from substance-related harms.

“We put these purple ribbons up on trees with pictures to put faces to the numbers. To remind everyone we are talking about our loved ones,” said Last-Kolb.

This year, 51 people’s photos will be featured, including Last-Kolb’s 24-year-old son, who died from fentanyl poisoning in 2014.

“These are our children. These are our loved ones. These are people that are truly missed,” said Last-Kolb. “Many of these deaths are preventable and we want to bring awareness.”

Overdose Awareness Manitoba will be setting up purple ribbon displays at 11 locations, six within Winnipeg and several in more rural centres like Selkirk, Teulon and St. Adolphe.

“We’re just asking for a lot of support and love,” Last-Kolb said. “We need to end this stigma.”

Along with awareness, the campaign aims to promote the benefits of the opioid reversing drug naloxone, which can be used in overdose situations.

“We need better distribution of naloxone, so I would like to see more people have naloxone. I would like to see the government have a long-term plan to make sure our services are very well covered with naloxone.”

While the province has made recent changes to declassify the drug, Last-Kolb said she believes paramedics should become distributors and give naloxone to people who are likely to overdose.

“We want to change this and a lot of these deaths are preventable,” she said.

Overdose Awareness Manitoba said anyone is welcome to add purple ribbons to display and those who have lost loved ones to drug-related harms are welcome to add their loved one’s photo.

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