De-stigmatizing Substance Dependency and Saving Lives Starts with YOU.

Substance Dependency, Harm Reduction and Overdose Awareness, Anti-Stigmatization

August 31, 2021, is International Overdose Awareness Day.  Why is this day exceptionally important in British Columbia, and Canada?

In March of 2021, there were 158 suspected overdose deaths in BC.

In April 2021, BC EHS responded to 2,758 overdose calls. 92 calls in one day.

On April 14, 2016, British Columbia declared an overdose crisis due to the continually increasing overdose-related deaths in the province.

It is estimated that over 2000 overdoses will occur in BC in 2021.

De-stigmatizing Substance Dependency

Many people do not reach out for help because of the powerful stigmatization around substance dependency in our society. Substance users are stereotyped as unemployed, non-contributors to our communities and the greater society, as burdens, or are racialized as minorities, Black and people of colour, Indigenous, or as homeless or vagrant, and as criminals.

In fact, many people use on their own in solitude. And 69% of those who overdose are men between the ages of 30-59.

Substance dependency itself does not discriminate, even though many of us do when stereotyping who we think of as a substance user, or a victim of overdose. One way we can all help is by learning how substance dependency effects our communities. And to learn that substance dependency effects everyone.

What YOU Can Do: Stop Stigma, and Save Lives[1]

  • Treat every human being with dignity and respect.
  • See a person for who they are, not what drugs they use.
  • Listen while withholding judgment.
  • Avoid using labels.
  • Replace negative assumptions with evidence-based facts.
  • Use ‘people first language’[2] that refers to a person before describing their behavior or condition. This acknowledges that a person’s behavior, illness, or condition is not their character.

 Recognizing an Overdose

Learning how to recognize signs of an overdose is important. The most dangerous cause of overdose is due to fentanyl poisoning in the drug supply.

Symptoms of an opioid overdose include difficulty breathing, blue lips or nails, inability to be woken up, choking or snoring sounds, and drowsiness. If witnessed, don’t turn away, call 9 1 1. Even if you have taken drugs or have some with you.

Good Samaritan Law

It’s important to stay until help arrives. Even if you have taken drugs, or have some on your person, the Good Samaritan Law can protect you. Follow the instructions of 9 1 1, or your local emergency number. And administer Naloxone if you have it.


Naloxone is a drug that temporarily reverses the overdose by binding to the same receptors in the brain as opioids. This pushes the opioid from the receptor to restore normal breathing. Naloxone has no effect upon someone who has not taken an opioid, so it is safe to administer if in doubt.

Together We Can Help

Together we can learn that substance dependency and overdose impacts all of us. Together we can learn that the face of overdose could be the one in the mirror.  Together we can cultivate compassion through learning about harm reduction. Together we can help our communities and our society. [3] Together we can stop stigma and save lives.


How Youth Can Help

Youth, more than any other age group, do a great job of keeping each other safe. If you are a youth who wants to be involved in a community action team, please scan the following QR Code: (1) (2).jpg


Educating Ourselves

To learn more about Naloxone, or becoming certified to administer it, please visit:

To learn more about stopping stigma and saving lives, and to listen to the stories of 12 people with direct or family experiences with overdose and substance dependency, please visit:

To learn more about peer support, please visit:

To learn about the Canadian Drugs and Substances Strategy, and Harm Reduction policy, please visit:

To learn about the Canadian ‘Good Samaritan Law’, please watch:


Supports and Resources

For supports and resources, please visit:

[1] Northern Health ‘Stop Stigma. Save Lives’ <>

[2] BC Center for Disease Control (2017) ‘Language matters: reduce stigma, combat overdose’ <>

[3] *Facts and guidance taken from a youth-led initiative at SFU Office of Community Engagement, Sharon Perry & Associates | CPA, and approved by Fraser Health. For more information please visit:

Blog Author: Annette Andrews

Annette Andrews works as Resource Development Officer with United Way of Northern BC and is based out of Fort St. John. Annette has worked in various community building and non-profit organizations in addition to her fields of work and study, such as art interpretation (docent), organizing and advocacy with addiction and homelessness in Canada, pre-natal and natal care and infant mortality in rural China, education and learning in China, and street-dog care in Nepal to name a few.

Annette represents UWNBC at three key community action tables (Anti-Stigma Team Fort St. John; Community Action Team Fort St. John; Community Action Team Steering Committee Fort St. John) to address the opioid crisis that has profoundly impacted communities in the northeast region of the province and province-wide. Precisely, Fort St. John is one of the hardest-hit communities and where the crisis had polarized the community.

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