Today is a day to light a candle, take a moment of silence, or write a remembrance of loved ones lost to overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) began in Melbourne, Australia, started by Sally J Finn of the Salvation Army. Her vision was to provide a day of mourning that would combat the stigma and shame of death by overdose and allow communities to address and acknowledge the impact drugs and overdoses have on society.
The impact of death and injury from overdose affects every culture and cuts across race and socio-economic classes. The US still leads the world in overdose deaths accounting for one in four. In 2018 69% of all overdoses involved opioids; two out of three overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil. The strength of synthetic opioids and their use as a cutting agent for cocaine and heroin increases the likelihood of an unintentional overdose.
The stigma of overdose is driven by stereotypes and a perception that the substance abuser has a moral failing. This myopic view allowed companies like Purdue Pharma to redirect blame onto the victims by playing on preconceptions of who abuses drugs. It is time to take a hard look at the systematic agents – cultural norms, institutional policies, and laws – that continue to stigmatize substance abuse and overdose deaths, creating a downward spiral for those fighting their addictions.
With outreach, education, and a lessening of the stigma attached to substance abuse and overdose, the US has seen the first decrease in overdose deaths in 20 years.
More work is needed with a focus on outreach, awareness, funding for treatment, and changes in enforcement, and laws—an increase in support for public health policy changes made to address the overdose death crisis.
So, take this moment to remember loved ones gone, reach out to those still suffering the effects of an overdose, or those fighting their addictions. Attend an IOAD event, donate to an organization for recovery or outreach, or talk openly with friends and family and begin to help break down the stigma and shame of overdose.
“At its heart, Overdose Awareness Day is a day that commemorates the death of a loved one, with pride.” ~ Sally J. Finn