In 2001 while working at a needle exchange for the Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia, it occurred to Sally J. Finn that families of drug overdose victims had no common outlet to share their grief and celebrate the lives of their loved ones. On a deeper level she realized that this was largely due to the stigma of drug overdose and that many family members felt ashamed or burdened by guilt, fearing judgement from others for even speaking about it. With this heartfelt notion in mind, she went on to create what we now know as International Overdose Awareness Day.
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) has many layers. Its primary function will always be to provide an outlet for families and friends to share grief without fear of judgement. Providing information and support services to the public has naturally become part of their mission as well. The work is often rigorous, stressful, and offers very little in terms of monetary compensation. The individuals that carry out these duties are typically volunteers doing it out of love and concern rather than for reward.
While IOAD is a day to mourn losses, it is also a day to take a cold hard look at what is happening. The global issue of drug overdose is staggering. In the most recent World Drug Report, they found that 585,000 people died from a drug overdose in 2017.
Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. Our first responders often find themselves fighting this battle on the front lines. Equipped with drugs like Naloxone (Narcan) and Naltrexone they are now better equipped than ever to make a difference when needed. In 2019 alone, 27,000 lives were saved through the use of Narcan Kits.
EMS personnel also help in many unseen ways. By using the data collected from first responders both government and non-profit agencies are able to determine the geographic locations of frequent overdoses so that they can better prepare for and increase awareness in the community. Resources like overdose prevention sites and safe use areas are setup with the goal of minimizing any human loss. But just like a family that loses a member, these interactions can be traumatic and lead to disorders like PTSD for first responders. The U.S Department of Health and Human services offers a free 1-hour training course for first responders to provide coping strategies and stress mitigation techniques. Please follow the link for this free course: https://www.samhsa.gov/dtac/first-responders-training.
As we search for better understanding of what changes we need in our societies to make an impact on this global issue, please take a moment to acknowledge the losses suffered from this tragedy. It is only through knowledge and compassion that we will make a real difference for future generations.
For more information on what you can do to celebrate International Overdose Awareness Day please visit: https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/opioids/international-overdose-awareness-day