Last week, in an interview with Barrie Community Media commemorating International Overdose Awareness Day, Sarah Tilley from the Gilbert Centre highlighted the mixed emotions surrounding the day. “It’s bittersweet,” she said. On one hand, the day provides a much-needed outlet for the often unacknowledged grief of those who’ve loved and lost to poor drug policies. On the other, the collective grief over countless lives lost can be heart-wrenching.
Tilley stressed the pressing need for practical solutions like safe consumption sites – not just as a stop-gap measure, but as the foundation for broader services. “People cannot get better if they’re not here,” she stated, pointing to a wider spectrum of support that’s crucial – from housing and medical support to mental health treatments and social support. Changing the narrative on drug policy is imperative, she noted. There are substances, like marijuana, once demonized and criminalized, that society now accepts. The goal should be safe access and changing perceptions about drug use, focusing on support and harm reduction rather than punishment.
Speaking of the Gilbert Centre, Tilley shed light on its multifaceted role. Beyond its harm reduction services – which include offering unused drug use equipment and Naloxone training – the Centre stands as a beacon of hope and a hub of resources. From LGBTQ and HIV programming to educational initiatives, the Centre’s offerings are vast. They have also filled community gaps by providing necessities like clothing and food, largely donation-based, and offering spaces where individuals can simply be without fear or judgment.
Tilley said the day underscores a vital message: that change is possible when communities rally together, providing resources, support, and compassion.