Teulon woman honours brother's memory with purple ribbons

A purple ribbon from Overdose Awareness Manitoba, in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to addiction, is wrapped around a tree at the Teulon Memory Garden in Teulon, Man. on Aug. 9, 2019. (Adam Peleshaty/The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times/Postmedia Network)

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On Feb. 26, 2019, Jody Wasserman’s life, along with those of her family, was irreparably changed forever.

After a long battle with addiction, her brother Joshua Zeller died from a drug overdose at the age of 36, leaving behind two sons. Even more painful for his family was that shortly before Zeller’s death, he went to an additions clinic asking for help.

“Before we lost him, we had him in a clinic trying to get help and they said, ‘You can get help, but you have to wait four to six weeks,’” Wasserman told The Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times. “He didn’t last four days.”

Since then, Wasserman has been on a mission to spare the lives of others affected by addiction. She joined Overdose Awareness Manitoba, an organization made up of people who have lost loved ones through overdose and other harms of substance abuse. This month, the group is raising awareness of drug overdose with its Purple Ribbon campaign, ending with International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

Wasserman and others are handing out purple ribbons for people to wear and to wrap around trees to remember those who had struggled with addiction. The Teulon resident estimated that she has already handed out 80 ribbons to other residents of the community, 30 of which were placed on trees. Wasserman wants those living in rural communities to know that overdoses are not just a city problem.

“It’s an everywhere problem,” she said. “Teulon has the same problem and I’ve been trying to raise awareness to get people to realize that it is not a bad neighbourhood problem or a poor person problem. It can happen to anybody.”

In order to solve the problem, Wasserman added, people must first overcome the stigma attached to addiction and talk about it.

“If people talk about it, people are more willing to ask for the help they need,” she said.

Yet another obstacle is the lack of spaces available for those suffering from addiction to receive potentially life-saving treatment. Overdose Awareness Manitoba is urging various levels of government to address the crisis and for provincial election candidates to make it a priority on the campaign trail.

“We need places that are open when they want the help and they need to be able to go right then,” Wasserman said, adding that support also needs to be both continuous, outsourced and affordable. “There needs to be a seamless transition. You go to detox, you go to rehab which is long-term. Twenty-eight days in rehab does nothing. That’s not going to help anyone … My brother could have got in somewhere but it was going to cost $20,000 for a month. We couldn’t afford that.”

Zeller’s memory will be honoured at the Zero Pucks Given JZ Memorial Ball Hockey Tournament at St. Norbert Arena in Winnipeg on Aug. 24. All proceeds will go towards the Bruce Oake Memorial Fund which provides support to those living with addiction. For more information, visit the tournament’s Facebook page or email Wasserman at jodywasserman@live.ca.