International Overdose Awareness Day 2023

Posted On Thursday August 17, 2023

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is observed annually on August 31st and is an internationally recognized as a day of remembrance for individuals that have died from overdose.

Across Canada, including in Waterloo Region, drug poisonings and drug poisoning deaths have been increasing to unprecedented levels each year. In 2021, 110 people in our region died from confirmed opioid-related deaths. In 2022, there were 89 probable opioid-related deaths and as of August 17, 2023, Waterloo Regional Police Services report there have been 40 suspected opioid-related deaths in 2023 [i]. However, we must remember this is not just an opioid crisis; this is a drug poisoning crisis. When we account for all drug-related deaths since 2018, there have been 690 suspected drug-related deaths in Waterloo Region [ii]. The urgency to avoid similar preventable deaths in 2023 and beyond cannot be overstated.

This year on IOAD, we remember those who have died by preventable overdose in Waterloo Region and beyond while calling for action to prevent further loss to the drug poisoning crisis. Evidence-informed solutions already exist. Systemic and policy level change is needed through community collaboration grounded in evidence, equity, and the expertise of people most affected.

The WRIDS Overdose Prevention Work Group has organized two events in Waterloo Region for this year’s IOAD.

Cambridge – August 25th, 2023 – 12-2pm – Soper Park Picnic Area

Kitchener – August 31st – 6-8pm – Willow River Park (formerly called Victoria Park)

The events will include:

  • Guest speakers
  • A moment of silence
  • The Sanguen Van
  • Community partners with resources and supports including naloxone training
  • Pizza, pop, water

With this year’s theme Time to Remember, Time to Act! we call for the following actions:

  • Declare the Drug Poisoning Crisis a Public Health Emergency. Giving authority and funds to implement immediate policy changes and investments to deliver real change. Publishing these action items with targets, timelines and goals to reduce the incidence of drug poisoning deaths and injuries, among other individual and community-level harms. 
  • Immediately begin working on decriminalization through submission of a federal Section-56 exemption for Waterloo Region. Criminalizing and charging people who use drugs can be harmful to individuals and families, is expensive, and creates barriers that disrupts housing stability, labour force participation, medical care, and other services. The establishment of de jure decriminalization through a section-56 exemption is a long-term process. In the interim, WRPS commits to continuing to reduce CDSA possession charges by the end of 2023 in line with on going de-prioritization work.
  • Based on previous advocacy letters to the provincial and federal government of support, find local funds to expand evidence-informed safe supply initiatives to people who are dependent on the toxic unregulated drug market that is created through prohibition and criminalization of a health issue. Safe supply prevents both death and a wide range of harms to individuals and the community.
  • Establish and fund safe inhalation services at all supervised consumption services (CTS and UPHNS locations). Smoking (inhalation) is the leading modality of consumption at the time of drug poisoning deaths and remains a significant barrier to accessing these life saving services.
  • Continue to support the implementation of a Consumption and Treatment Services site in Cambridge and encourage the Provincial Members of Parliament and the Ministry of Health to remove the arbitrary and inadequate CTS site limit of 21 for the province of Ontario.  Chronic delays add more unnecessary deaths in Waterloo region and beyond.
  • Encourage the RMOW and others to fund the establishment of 'overdose prevention sites' using the Urgent Public Health Need exemptions provided by Health Canada for organizations where deaths (or risk of deaths) are known to occur (e.g. area shelters, residential settings etc.).
  • Re-examine emergency services dispatch protocols and properly fund and implement evidence-informed practices to reduce existing barriers to calling 9-1-1 at overdose emergencies such as routine non-attendance at non-fatal overdoses. Police presence remains a barrier to calling 9-1-1 despite the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act.

This year on August 31, let's mourn with our community while learning about and moving to implement lifesaving evidence-based supports so we can begin to prevent the death of our community members.


Media contact:  

Melina Pearson

Outreach Coordinator

Bereaved Families of Ontario-Midwestern Region 

-Due to the sensitive nature of this event, please refer to best practices and approach the appropriate contacts before approaching individuals at the event. -

[i] Overdose / Drug Poisoning Dashboard. Confirmed and Probable Opioid-Related Deaths (Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario) with Suspected Drug-related deaths (Waterloo Region Police Services) in Waterloo Region.  Retrieved August 17, 2023 from

[ii] July 2023 Office of the Chief Coroner Monthly Update. Suspect Drug-related Deaths by Public Health Unit, by month (2018-2023).


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