By Noel Bentley
Sixty souls filled the seats in front of the stage at the Surrey Pentecostal Assembly Church for our second TEDXSurrey Salon. The evening’s theme is, “Our Overdoes Crisis is Closer Than You Think.” One of the evening’s speakers, Kathleen Radu, earlier expressed how challenging it is to get people to events that raise awareness of the overdose crisis. “Sometimes just 10 show up.” We’re already sensing something special is happening.
One hundred and twenty eyes are fixed on Guy Felicella who tells of his improbable journey from the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side to international speaker, educator and advocate.
“I died six times.” Guy says.
A muscular, tattooed forearm places his hand over his heart. His voice strains slightly as he lets the audience walk a few steps in his shoes. Guy continues with his tale of being resuscitated multiple times and finally encountering the care workers who would give him the support he needed to change his life. Now he advises policy makers, calls attention to our overdose crisis and inspires us to take action to help change a system that cannot prevent the 20 plus deaths a day from opioid overdose in Canada.
In the planning for this evening’s event, Guy was asked what he most wanted to see happen. “Imagine 50,000 people on the streets of Vancouver being seen on International Overdose Awareness Day. We can send a message. No-one needs to die from drug overdoses.” It would also be key to shine a light on this crisis which often remains shrouded in stigma, shame and darkness that prevent us from taking the necessary steps towards help and healing.
Kathleen Radu has traveled from Vancouver Island with her family to be a part of the program. She strides on stage and begins to slowly reveal her personal connection to the overdose crisis. Her son, Morgan, had his life tragically cut short and Kathleen allows us a glimpse of a mother’s traumatic journey; treatment centres, recovery, relapse, those who helped, those who passed judgement, heartbreaking loss and the choices made in its wake. In the two years since, Kathleen has become an active member of Moms Stop the Harm to advocate for the change of failed drug policies, provide peer support to grieving families, and assist those with loved ones who use or have used substances. She’s also opened a studio that helps others nourish and heal themselves through creativity as they navigate grief.
After a break, Guy and Kathleen sit centre stage to respond to audience questions and comments for 45 minutes. We learn about the challenges to meaningful discussion, political barriers to change, the pitfalls of current treatments and why we need to carry naloxone kits. It’s disappointing to have to end the formal discussion. However, most everyone remains afterwards to thank the speakers, connect with other audience members and start this critical public discussion.
We hope that everyone will take the simple first steps, voice their concern to their public officials and be seen supporting awareness and meaningful change because, as Guy said, “No matter who you are we can all agree that no-one needs to die.”
Noel Bentley is the EMCEE & Program Manager for TEDxSurrey.