Gemma: Empathic, huge heart, strong, kind, beautiful.
Ola: Determined, adventurous, exuberant.
Jordan: Joker, inspiration, brother.
These are among the 16 names and descriptions of people whose stories are shared through the Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices project.
Along with their photos and the loved ones they left behind, the project seeks to highlight the tragedy of the overdose crisis that continues to affect Vancouver and British Columbia.
“We want everyone to get to know these individuals,” said Deb Bailey, Adler University Vancouver Campus adjunct professor, who led the creation of the project. “I wanted to show that this crisis is continuing, that it’s affecting people from all walks of life, and to encourage everyone that it’s time to act.”
The project — created through a grant from the Vancouver Community Action Team — includes six large banners that feature the 16 names and photographs, along with a QR code that takes viewers to the Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices webpage, where they can read more about those who lost their lives to the crisis.
The idea stemmed from Bailey’s frustration with the media’s coverage of the overdose crisis.
“It didn’t paint a full picture of the epidemic,” she said. “Most people still think that these overdose deaths only affect those experiencing homelessness or those who are poor. I have news for them. It can affect anyone.”
The toxic drug crisis that has gripped British Columbia has claimed more than 11,000 lives. Bailey added that in April, the B.C. coroner reported about 260 overdose-related deaths.
According to Bailey, in British Columbia, 70% of those dying from overdoses are men between the ages of 29-50. Most are working in the trade or transportation industry. Many simply had work injuries, were prescribed opioids, and became addicted to them.
Bailey added that five people featured in the banners, including her daughter Izzy, are gone because of something a doctor did or didn’t do.
Izzy died of an overdose in 2015 after struggling to obtain Suboxone, an opiate blocker which was then prescribed with onerous restrictions that prevented Bailey from acquiring the drug on behalf of her daughter. This experience was the catalyst for her advocacy work to seek to address the many systemic barriers that could prevent families from helping loved ones with addiction. Restrictions to Suboxone has since changed, making it easier to acquire. Those changes came after the 2015 death of Ola, who is among those featured in the project. Read more about Ola in the Sudden Silence: Hidden Voices website.
The name of the project is inspired by the impact felt when someone dies as a result of an overdose.
“‘Sudden Silence’ comes from the fact that my phone suddenly quit ringing because my daughter’s phone calls stopped,” Bailey said. “And ‘Hidden Voices’ speaks to the fact that nobody hears them anymore. We are now their voices.”
Since the project’s launch in August 2022, the banners have been showcased in various places in British Columbia, including the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Delta City Hall, Delta Police Department, Vancouver Police Department, St. Paul’s Hospital, and Douglas College.
Through May 29, the project is exhibited in the Vancouver Campus. Bailey also hosted a student discussion at Community Hall on May 24.
The stories have also since been compiled and published in a magazine, which has been sent to all members of parliament, BC officials, and the mayors of nearby mainland communities. The magazine is funded by Vancouver City Councillor Adrianne Carr who was moved to develop the publications after attending the launch of the project at the Wosk Centre.
Bailey’s hope is that elected leaders can begin putting more money into programs that can help solve the problem.
“We need to really think outside the box for solutions and find safer ways to get those who are addicted what they need until we can get them the appropriate treatment,” she said. “Most people don’t understand addiction, which makes it hard to move people politically to address the problem. I hope this project continues the conversation and leads to more people demanding change.”