Interior Health display 'burns bright' in Kamloops for victims of the opioid crisis

A candlelight display that honours the lives lost to the overdose crisis in the last three years has arrived in Kamloops.

Interior Health’s “Burning Bright” display is set up at the downtown TNRD Public Library and features 645 candles – one for each person who has died in the region between January 2016 and December 2018.

The goal of the travelling initiative (the display has been to Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon prior to stopping in the Tournament Capital) is to shine a light on overdose deaths, as the public health emergency moves into its fourth year.

Of the 645 deceased, 141 people were from Kamloops, including Tyler Robinson. His photo is one of the few among the many candles.

Tyler-two-editSherry Robinson holds a photo of her son, Tyler. (via Tereza Verenca)

The 23-year-old died of an overdose on Jan. 27, 2016 in a friend’s hotel room.

“He had been in a recovery centre; it was abstinence-based,” his mom, Sherry, tells KamloopsMatters. “Unfortunately, they were self-medicating up there and there weren’t a lot of regulations and he left. Unfortunately, he relapsed and used again and there was fentanyl in his drug supply (heroin), and that’s what poisoned him. When you go without a drug for a while, it sets you up for being more susceptible to an overdose.”

Sherry says her son battled with anxiety and depression throughout his life. He began using drugs recreationally at the age of 14.

“I think he tried many different drugs. I know that he did go on to using crystal meth and he got hooked on heroin. It was a tumultuous eight years. As a single parent, it was a difficult challenge. I remember feeling very isolated,” she explains.

“When you go through something like that, I didn’t realize what stigma was. I just knew I felt very self-conscious about what we were going through.”

She was angry, she adds, because she felt like her child was falling through the cracks. There weren’t enough wraparound services for his addiction or supports for his mental health struggles, she says. 

“We couldn’t access services in a timely way that could meet Tyler where he was at.”

Private treatment, meanwhile, was out of the question.

“I’ve met parents online who spent $250,000 (for treatment),” says Sherry.

The local mom decided to stop living in “the silence and shame of the stigma” when the overdose crisis hit. Following her son's death, she joined Moms Stop the Harm, a nationwide support network of Canadian families who have been touched by the crisis. She's been an advocate ever since.

On the third Tuesday of every month, at the United Church on St. Paul Street, Sherry offers a “healing hearts grief group” for anyone who has lost a loved one to substance use. The group meets from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

As for the candlelight display, which will be in town until April 28, Sherry hopes it opens people’s hearts and minds.

“(Listen) to families who have gone through the lived experience, and listen to the lived experience people who are in the throes of addiction, as to what they need and why they are the way they are, and meeting them where they’re at," she says. "We just need to really treat them with the inherent worth and dignity they deserve.”

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