On International Overdose Awareness Day, BC NDP Minister Judy Darcy speaks from the heart.

Today we mark International Overdose Awareness Day in memory of the people taken from their loved ones too soon, and for the family, friends and neighbours who grieve their loss.

The numbers have been staggering in the midst of the overdose epidemic in British Columbia. But behind every number is a person with their own journey and story.

I am struck by how this crisis affects so many different people from all walks of life who are overdosing and dying at an alarming rate: people of all ages, education levels, professions, and incomes.

As the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, I have visited frontline services and spoken to some of the people affected.

You cannot stereotype the people affected by addiction. I have talked to loggers, carpenters and bricklayers who were injured on the job, became addicted to painkillers prescribed for their injuries and then turned to street drugs. I’ve met people who were in car accidents with the same result. I’ve spoken to members of Indigenous communities, who are feeling the crisis more acutely than any other people. I have met with the spouse of a professor who died by overdose.

What I am also hearing is that fear of judgment and shame can keep people in the cycle of addiction and prevent them from seeking help to improve their lives.

It drives people to use drugs alone, which can come at a terrible price. The majority of people who are dying from overdose are dying alone at home.

Addiction is not a moral failing. It is a complex health condition, often resulting from deep psychological pain or acute physical pain.

We need to treat people with addiction with the same respect, compassion, and empathy as anyone with any other serious, chronic health condition. Nobody chooses to become addicted.

The reality is that the overdose crisis could involve one of your family members, one of your friends or one of your co-workers. This tragedy touches individuals, families, and communities in every part of our province.

To reduce stigma, I invite each of you to be more compassionate, be conscious of your own personal prejudices and choose your language with care.

Every one of us can take steps to actively change the widespread stigma surrounding these challenging issues.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, please join me in committing to doing all we can to reduce stigma, and to support our loved ones who need our help with managing and recovering from addiction. Reach out in loving, supportive ways. Let us work together to reduce harm, save lives and make sure treatment and recovery services are available when people ask for help.