At a candlelight vigil outside the Vancouver Art Gallery Friday night, residents who have lost loved-ones to the opioid crisis gathered to share their stories, to mourn, and to call for change.

The gathering was one of hundreds held in cities around the world to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

Organizer Tabitha Montgomery said the event gathering aims to call attention to the large - and in recent years, growing - number of people affected by overdoses in Canada and around the world.

“This has affected my family through generations,” Montgomery said. “I lost my dad and my best friend. My daughter lost her biological father. We have a lot of losses in our friends and family. This is reaching too many lives.”

Montgomery said governmental handling of the crisis has contributed to the problem.

“There’s too much stigma and not enough healthcare,” she said. “Enough is enough. We need to make some changes, and we need to make them now.”

Among the changes Montgomery would like to see is the decriminalization of drug possession, as well as a regulated, medically available supply of drugs for those who are addicted.

Such changes would be part of a broader reframing of drug addiction and overdoses as a healthcare issue, not a criminal justice issue. Others at the rally echoed this goal.

“Right now we have no control over the illicit drug supply and it is absolutely toxic,” said Darwyn Fisher, program manager at the safe-injection site Insite. “We need to change that somehow. We need to find a way to provide safer substances for people, because you can’t recover if you’re dead.”

Louise Cameron is a leader of the Vancouver chapter of Moms Stop the Harm, a national network of people who have lost loved-ones to drug addiction and overdoses.

“In a perfect world … all substances would be legalized and controlled by the government so that people that desperately needed them could have a clean and safe supply, be stabilized, and then ushered into a range of options for treatment,” Cameron said. “Addiction isn’t a choice, but recovery is.”

She said she dreams of a world in which events like Friday’s are no longer necessary.

“Too many people I know have lost children to overdose or drug-related deaths, myself included,” Cameron said. “It’s so frustrating that we have to keep coming back out.”