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New Port Alberni group offers support for those affected by toxic drug deaths

Alberni Valley Times - 5/28/2024

A new bereavement group in Port Alberni will be offering peer support for people who have lost a loved one to the toxic drug crisis.

Healing Hearts is a peer-facilitated bereavement support group for individuals living with a substance use related loss. The group assists individuals through their grief by offering a space to share similar experiences, thoughts and feelings.

There are many Healing Hearts support groups across the country. The program is offered by Moms Stop the Harm, a network of Canadian families impacted by substance use related harms and deaths.

Port Alberni facilitator Maureen Therrien-McKinnon said there is a group in Parksville, but she felt there was "an empty space" in Port Alberni that needed to be filled.

"There is quite a great deal of loss that has happened," she explained. "We do believe there is a great need here in Port Alberni, because year after year this has gotten worse."

The toxic drug crisis was declared a provincial public health emergency back in 2016, and since then more than 14,000 people across the province have died. Last year, 37 people died in the Alberni-Clayoquot region as a result of the crisis, a record-breaking number.

Therrien-McKinnon says she wanted to create a safe space where people can grieve the loss of a loved one without the stigma that is often associated with drug use. The group is open to friends, family members or anyone who has been touched by a loss related to the toxic drug crisis.

"If you go to any bereavement group, it's hard to fight the stigma," said Therrien-McKinnon. "There's a lot of guilt and shame around it. We want to have a group where there is none of that stigma or fear of talking about what happened.

"It's a difficult loss, and we're all peers, so we understand."

Meetings will take place on the fourth Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at the Kuu-us Crisis Line Society meeting room located on Adelaide Street. The meeting is free of charge.