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International Overdose Awareness Day

August 31st is International! It is a time to raise awareness of drug overdose and remember those who have died or suffered permanent injury – and acknowledge the grief of their family and friends.

Overdose is known to be one of the world’s worst public health crises. According to the CDC, over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in the past 12 months from June 2019-May 2020 (which is the highest number ever recorded). The CDC also points out that synthetic opioids are the primary cause for the increase in overdose deaths. Deaths from opioid overdose have increased 38.4% in the past 12 months. Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5% (research points out that this is most likely due to contamination of cocaine with fentanyl or heroin). 

It is crucial to be aware that a range of signs and symptoms can occur when a person overdoses, and everyone will respond differently. You shouldn’t only call an ambulance if someone is unconscious. Other signs to look for is if the person is experiencing any of these symptoms: 

  • A seizure  
  • A severe headache  
  • Chest pain  
  • Breathing difficulties  
  • Extreme paranoia, agitation, and/or confusion  

Make sure to stay with the person and assure them if they are conscious. If unconscious, turn them on their side to prevent them from choking on their vomit. Continuously monitor the person until help arrives. Don’t ignore snoring or gurgling cause this may indicate that a person is having trouble breathing.  

Overdose and addiction have always been serious issues. However, the spread of awareness this year is crucial because the situation is increasingly becoming worse. While overdose numbers were already increasing during 2019, it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an acceleration of overdose deaths.

The pandemic disrupted everyone’s daily life, and we all had to adjust to a “new normal.” However, the pandemic also had a significant impact on those struggling with substance use disorder. After all, the pandemic not only changed our lives in a physical sense, but many of us also had to face challenges with our mental health. The pandemic led to many people feeling stressed (both in a personal and economic sense) and isolated. These feelings can be harmful to those struggling with addiction because they may engage in substance use to deal with these feelings. The feeling of isolation and scarcity of obtaining drugs have also contributed to the risk of overdose.  

Thus, it is a significant time to honor and remember those who lost their lives or have been severely impacted by their substance use disorder. Also, remember that this may be the first time family members may be openly mourning their loved ones. We should respect and provide a safe environment for families to grieve and mourn without having to feel guilt or shame. Many of those who have suffered from overdose and addiction may also find this day triggering. We encourage those struggling to take time for themselves and maybe reach out to anyone who will listen (a medical professional or family and friends). Know that you are valued.  

August 31st is also a crucial time we can collectively come together as a society and make an active effort to discuss and work towards better evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy. You can start by: 

  • Showing your support by actively participating in events and campaigns 
  • Hold an event in your community 
  • Post a tribute to loved ones who have died or who have suffered permanent injury to overdose 
  • Engage with other platforms and reliable sources on social media to gain more information  
  • Hold a candlelight vigil 
  • Reach out to anyone who may be struggling during this time  
  • Support and donate to organizations that work to treat and prevent the disease of addiction 
  • Open the doors to informative discussions about substance use disorder and drug overdoses  

We can all begin by educating ourselves and encouraging those with the knowledge to educate others. The more conversations we have about this issue, the more impact and difference it can have on breaking stigmas around drug-related deaths and substance use disorder. It is important to remember that anyone can be affected by an overdose, not just a specific group of people. If we work towards breaking these stigmas and forming better research-based approaches to overdose and drug policy, society can provide individuals suffering from addiction better help and support in their journey of getting better.  

While the pandemic may have worsened the opioid epidemic, it has also brought positive changes to this issue. Because of the pandemic and lockdown, Telehealth is a positive development that has emerged during this time.

It gives people struggling with substance abuse and addiction another accessible way of reaching out for help without traveling to a specific place. Also, as society has more open and informative conversations around this issue, awareness is being raised, and the stigmas around this issue are being dismantled. There is still lots of work that needs to get done. However, these conversations are making a huge impact and allowing society to take significant steps forward. While this is a day filled with grieving, it is also a day filled with hope for the positive changes that will continue to emerge in the present and future.  

As we take this time to spread awareness of drug overdose, it is important that everyone makes a collective effort to learn more about this topic. If you or a loved one is suffering (or if you want to learn more about this topic), we recommend you look into these resources for further information and guidance: 

We also encourage anyone struggling with a substance use disorder to reach out to their physician, other health professionals, support groups, family, and friends. We are all in this together, and we will all work to overcome this crisis.  

Sources: overdoseday.com and cdc.gov 

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