Today, August 31, is International Overdose Awareness Day. The global event aims to raise overdose awareness and fight addiction stigmas. Initiated in 2001 in Melbourne, Australia, by Sally J. Finn at The Salvation Army, IOAD is also a day of remembrance for loved ones who have passed away from drug overdose or suffered permanent injury from overdose. Since 2012, the event has been coordinated by the Penington Institute, a non-profit public health organization in Australia. Last year, nearly 500 events in support of IOAD were held around the world.
What exactly is an overdose?
An overdose takes place when someone takes more drugs than their body can cope with and often leads to death. The body essentially shuts down because it is overwhelmed by substances. Abuse of opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, and stimulants can all lead to overdose. Overdose can also lead to permanent brain damage.
Someone can also overdose their first time using drugs, so don’t make the mistake of believing that only someone who has developed a drug addiction can take a dose sufficient for overdose.
Why spreading awareness is necessary
In the United States, drug overdose has become far too common in recent years, with the opioid crisis alone claiming over 115 lives every day (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The CDC has also released preliminary data for last year— data that shows over 72,000 drug overdose deaths. Deaths involving synthetic opioids far outnumber deaths from opioids, opiates, and stimulants, totaling over 29,000; this segment also saw the sharpest increase. The increase can be attributed to deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl analogs, of which there were nearly 30,000. Overdose deaths from heroin, responsible for the second largest percentage of overdose deaths, numbered nearly 16,000.
Globally, it is estimated that nearly 191,000 deaths are caused by drugs, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s 2017 World Drug Report. Sadly, many overdose deaths are preventable.
The role of opioids.
Much of the increase in opioid deaths last year has its roots in the changing drug supply and the increasing number of people using opioids in the U.S. Opioids are highly addictive drugs that bind to receptors in the brain to release “pleasure chemicals,” such as dopamine. This flood of dopamine induces euphoria (the “high”) and changes the brain’s physical structure, creating substance tolerance and dependence.
This dependence is part of the physiological basis of addiction and is why those with an opioid use disorder (or any drug use disorder) require higher, regular doses of opioids (or other drugs) to produce the desired effect/experience feelings of pleasure.
Opioids have become much deadlier in recent years, as drugs like heroin are being cut with fentanyl and fentanyl is being sold as heroin. A lethal dose of heroin is 30 milligrams, as compared with a lethal 3-milligram dose of fentanyl. Fentanyl is also being pressed into pills and being sold as prescription opioid painkillers like oxycodone.
Though opioids and synthetic opioids are responsible for most overdoses, other drugs play a big role.
Of the 12 million people who inject drugs, nearly 2 million are living with HIV, 8.1 million are living with hepatitis C, and over 1 million are living with both HIV and hepatitis C (UNODC).
The goals of IOAD, as published on the official website, are as follows:
- To provide those who have lost loved ones to overdose a safe environment to publicly mourn, without guilt or shame
- To include as many people as possible and encourage everyone to participate
- To inform the community about non-/fatal overdose
- To strongly reassure current and former drug users that they are valued
- To facilitate discussion of overdose prevention and drug policy
- To provide information on available support services
- To prevent and reduce harm by supporting evidence-based drug policy and practices
- To inform the global community of the risk of overdose
How can you spread awareness?
Find/list an event near you. You can visit IOAD’s website to find a local event or list an event that you’ve organized.
Show your support. Wear silver or purple on August 31 to spread awareness and show your support.
Help break down stigmas.
Common addiction stigmas include:
- Addiction is a choice. If someone wants to stop using, they can make a conscious decision to do so.
- Everyone addicted to drugs engages in criminal behavior; essentially, addiction is closely tied to morals.
- Once an addict, always an addict. (This statement, while technically true, is misguided; addiction cannot be cured, but it is a highly treatable disease and many people get and stay sober.)
- You won’t become addicted to drugs the first time you use them.
Use opportunities to explain to others that addiction is a disease and that people are more than what their addiction has defined them as. Stigmas can discourage people from getting the treatment that they need because they fear being judged or labeled. Stigma may also prevent someone from seeing that they have a problem and need help.
People tend to stigmatize what they don’t understand, so educating others on the facts of addiction can help to dismantle misconceptions and unfounded assumptions.
What should you do if someone overdoses?
Always seek emergency help if someone has overdosed or you suspect that they have overdosed.
Signs that someone has overdosed/is overdosing:
- Severe headache
- Chest pain
- Trouble breathing
- Very paranoid or visibly agitated or confused
- Snoring, with or without gurgling
Snoring may indicate that someone is having difficulty breathing, and you should immediately attempt to wake them up. If they do not wake up, seek help immediately.
Narcan, a naloxone nasal spray, is used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose and can be purchased without a prescription at most local CVS and Walgreen’s stores.
To learn more about IOAD or to find/list an event in your area, visit the official website.
Royal Life Centers is dedicated to breaking down addiction stigmas and providing the best addiction treatment. Our programs and addiction specialists provide guests the support that they need to overcome substance use disorder and take needed steps toward sobriety. Our medical detox and residential facilities provide a place for recovery to begin and our outpatient centers give guests a place to continue their recovery.
We treat dependence on alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, opioids, and benzodiazepines. Our admissions staff is available 24/7 at (877)-RECOVERY to provide support and answer any questions that you may have about our programs.