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'I love him, and I know he's in a good place': Overdose Awareness Day touches the lives of many in Simcoe County


Family and advocates gathered across Simcoe County Thursday, joining millions worldwide in marking International Overdose Awareness Day.

The annual event aims to honour those who've lost their lives to addiction and seeks to reduce stigmas surrounding drug use by educating the public.

One of those people is Lori St. Amant, who has spent over three years sharing her son Jason's story. Jason died of a fentanyl overdose in 2020, leaving behind two young children.

"I love him, and I know he's in a good place," St. Amant told CTV News Thursday. "He would be so proud that I can stand up here and do this for him and all the other children."

A memorial set up in Midland to honour those who lost their lives to addiction, taken on Thurs., Aug. 31 (Mike Arsalides/CTV News). St. Amant joined countless others in Midland to honour others who've lost their lives.

Jacqueline Contois, A Penetanguishene resident, was among the crowd.

Her son, Jason Brabant, died of a drug overdose. He was only 44-years-old.

"He hurt every day. He had an addiction," Contois said. "It's mental illness."

These mothers are now seeing countless others lose their loved ones to overdose as the out-of-control opioid crisis fueled by a tainted drug supply kills hundreds of people battling addiction across the region every year.

"Fentanyl is now being cut with Xylazine, which is of great concern to many mayors in our North Simcoe area as we see this really potent mixed drug come into our communities.," said Midland Mayor Bill Gordon. "That's the zombie drug that people are watching on YouTube going 'Thank goodness that's not here,' but it's coming."

Per the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's weekly opioid surveillance dashboard, 132 suspected drug overdose deaths and 874 suspected overdose-related emergencies have occurred this year.

A photo of those in attendance in Midland to mark International Overdose Awareness Day on Thurs., Aug. 31 (Mike Arsalides /CTV News). Insp. Todd Pittman of the OPP said police are managing the challenging task of keeping the community safe from crime while protecting the most vulnerable struggling with mental health and addiction challenges.

"We have to get to the root causes of these issues and help them and get them to help that they need and be consistent in it and persistent in it," Insp. Pittman added.

According to the Gilbert Centre in Barrie, stigmas surrounding addiction have dire consequences for Canadian policy decisions.

"We really need to be getting serious about decriminalization and safer supply so we don't have as many names to commemorate on days like International Overdose Awareness Day," said Sarah Tilley, Harm Reduction Manager with the Gilbert Centre.

In Barrie, empty chairs sat outside city hall to represent the lives lost to addiction.

A photo of the purple chairs set up at Barrie City Hall to honour those who lost their lives to addiciton, taken on Thurs., Aug. 31 (Mike Arsalides/CTV News). Christine Nayler founded Ryan's Hope, a non-profit aimed at tackling drug addiction, in honour of her son Ryan, who died in 2020.

"There's so many moms in our community that are grieving, but they grieve in silence because of shame and stigma," said Nayler. "I put myself out there knowing that I'm going to face shame and stigma, but I don't let it said, and I'm not embarrassed by my son, who was a beautiful human being, and his life mattered, and I'm going to continue to share his story."

A candlelight vigil will be held Thursday night to remember all those who've lost their lives to drug addiction. Top Stories

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