Paula Lowen shared the story of how her son died and how his loss has forever changed her life for the first time publicly during an International Overdose Awareness Day event, which took place Friday at Maffeo Sutton Park. NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin

Sad stories meant to be instructive at overdose awareness event in Nanaimo

International Overdose Awareness Day held Friday at Maffeo Sutton Park

It was September 2016 and Paula Lowen’s world was turned upside-down when her 28-year-old son Paul, died after overdosing on cocaine laced with fentanyl.

On Friday, Lowen shared the story of how her son died and how his loss has forever changed her life for the first time publicly during an International Overdose Awareness Day event, which took place at Maffeo Sutton Park.

“Imagine waking up every morning … and having your first thought be the loss of your precious loved one,” Lowen told a crowd of roughly 100 people.

Lowen explained that Paul and his friends did cocaine one night in Kelowna. While all of them ended up in the hospital, it was her son who didn’t come out alive.

“Paul played hockey, rugby, lacrosse, he went the gym almost daily,” Lowen said. “He loved and cherished his body. So, why he would introduce a foreign substance into his body is a mystery to me.”

According to the B.C. Coroners Service, there have been 878 illicit drug overdose deaths across the province this year, compared to last year when there were 1,422. Nanaimo, according to the coroners service, has had roughly 20 illicit drug overdose deaths this year and had 51 last year.

Friday’s event, which was designed to raise awareness about the opioid crisis and share stories of those who lost loved ones from overdosing, included representatives from AIDS Vancouver Island, who offered to teach people how to administer naloxone kits, and SOLID Outreach, a non-profit organization supporting displaced and drug addicted individuals. There were also volunteers from Volunteer Nanaimo handing out flowers made from pipe cleaners.

“They are suppose to represent life and creation in the face of addiction and they are meant to serve as a reminder of this day, International Overdose Awareness Day,” said Jayden Jung, a youth volunteer handing out the flowers.

The event also included speeches from Dr. Paul Hasselback, Vancouver Island Health Authority’s chief medical officer and politicians Leonard Krog, Nanaimo MLA, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson and Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay.

“We’ve learned a lot in this community, but I am so sorry that those lessons were necessary in the first place,” Malcolmson said.

She said when it comes to overdoses and overdose deaths, Nanaimo has been hit especially hard and that overdose rates are 50 per cent higher in Nanaimo than the rest of the province. She said it is important for individuals to share their stories about overdoses as it serves as a powerful message.

“I am really thankful for the families who have shared their stories here with us today,” she said. “We need to hear them. This could happen to any of us.”

Speaking to the News Bulletin afterwards, Hasselback said it is absolutely critical for youths and people in their early 20s to become engaged with their community and employed and because not having those elements in their lives can lead to illicit drug use.

“We need to engage our youth. We need to provide them with opportunity and we need to be sure that they are engaged and feel like they are a part of community. If we don’t do that, if we make it tough to get jobs and don’t have employment supports in place that actually contributes to future substance use problems,” he said, adding that standardized illicit drug prevention education is needed in schools across the province.

For Lowen, however, her wish is simple.

“My wish is that you don’t try drugs period,” she said.

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