BARRIE, ONT. -- One by one, they appeared in downtown Barrie on Saturday morning. Black balloons blown up or cut out of paper, taped in store windows and to lamp posts.

March 6th is Black Balloon Day, an international event to remember lives lost to drug overdose and advocate for change to prevent future deaths.

The balloons are marked with the names of those who have died, with messages of hope and understanding.

Christine Nayler helped organize the Black Balloon Day effort in Barrie. Her son Ryan died from drug poisoning in November.

"It is a public health emergency that needs to be addressed," Nayler said.

She hoped that putting balloons up near City Hall would serve as a reminder to decision-makers.

"We need safe supply, we need decriminalization, and we need harm reduction methods like the safe consumption sites. We need more treatment beds," Nayler said.

"If we work together, at all levels of government, just like we proved we could do for COVID, we can do it again for this. We can solve this crisis."

For Angela Vos, participating in Black Balloon Day is about breaking the stigma around her son Jordan's death.

She said he struggled and waited for supports for mental illness before a fatal fentanyl overdose last June.

She's determined to tell his story, even as members of her family urge her to stay quiet or move on.

"I'm not ashamed of what he suffered. I'm proud of how hard he fought," Vos said.