Overdose Awareness Day 2015

by | Aug 26, 2015 | Addiction, Intervention | 0 comments

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A picture taken for a treatment and education center in Melbourne in honor of their Overdose Awareness Day 2013 activities. (Stonetree/UnitingCare ReGen)

A picture taken for a treatment and education center in Melbourne in honor of their Overdose Awareness Day 2013 activities. (Stonetree/UnitingCare ReGen)

It goes by many names. Commonly referred to as International Overdose Awareness Day, it is also known as simply National Overdose Awareness Day. Others simplify it even further, simply calling it Overdose Awareness Day. To prevent confusion, that’s the approach we intend to take here. No matter what you choose to call it, it always falls on August 31, and it’s currently right around the corner. In fact, this year’s Overdose Awareness Day is going to fall on this coming Monday.

For those who are hearing about Overdose Awareness Day for the first time, we’d like to prepare you for it by talking a bit about what it is, how it got started, and why it’s important to spread awareness about the dangers of drug overdose. Since Monday is a pretty standard work day, it’s perfectly understandable if you don’t have time to plan any real events. Nonetheless, we’ll conclude our article by talking about various ways in which you can help to spread awareness on this highly important day.

What Is Overdose Awareness Day?

The image of the dandelion shows up frequently in Overdose Awareness Day marketing material. (Remi Jouan/Wikimedia Commons)

The image of the dandelion shows up frequently in Overdose Awareness Day marketing material. (Remi Jouan/Wikimedia Commons)

Overdose Awareness Day is more or less what it sounds like, but its purpose goes deeper than simply informing the public that drug overdose is a threat. According to the International Overdose Awareness Day website, one of the primary aims is to “reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.” The families and friends of those who succumb to overdose are often left in turmoil. Not only must they grapple with the passing of a loved one, but they are also faced with the realization that, unfortunately, they will not necessarily receive sympathy from those who learn the cause of death. As such, they will sometimes choose to simply stop talking about it.

This is why Overdose Awareness Day strives to inform people that drug overdose should not be stigmatized. We have spoken before about addict personality myths and stereotypes, the horrible conceptions that addicts are somehow bad people. Many uninformed members of society do not share the view that addiction is a disease. They feel that the people who have died due to drug overdose were people who simply lacked self-control and did not want to get better. People who share such beliefs are sometimes very open in their criticisms of those who suffer from addiction.

You’ve probably seen it before. We saw quite a bit of it on internet comment sections while researching our article on the story of Amy Winehouse. We’ve also seen it on articles about Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and countless others. Angry users will flood the comments with harsh criticisms on the character of the person who has passed away. But would they say such things to the faces of the families who lost those people? We’d certainly hope not. Overdose Awareness Day is not just about correcting these harsh critics, but also reassuring grief-stricken families that they should not listen to such uninformed censure.

Another major purpose of Overdose Awareness Day is to talk about overdose prevention. It is important to remember that while alcoholism and drug addiction are considered to be a disease, substance abuse is often merely a symptom. There are usually other underlying problems at hand. Many addicts and alcoholics suffer from one or a number of co-occurring mental disorders that cause them distress in various forms. In such cases, the addict or alcoholic is generally using as a means of mitigating the symptoms of these disorders. Unfortunately, such symptoms are often made worse as the addict dives further and further into the void.

Overdose Awareness Day is not necessarily a federal holiday in any nation, but is rather a commemorative day set aside for remembrance and for the dissemination of information. It is supported by the International Overdose Awareness Day Committee, and is dedicated to the belief that more information about the consequences of drug overdose could help save many lives. But we’ll discuss the necessity of Overdose Awareness Day in further detail later on. For now, let’s take a minute to talk about how the whole thing got started in the first place.

Overdose Awareness Day History

Overdose Awareness Day began with a conversation between two Salvation Army workers in Australia. (Leo Reynolds/Flickr)

Overdose Awareness Day began with a conversation between two Salvation Army workers in Australia. (Leo Reynolds/Flickr)

The history of Overdose Awareness Day can be found in two primary locations: the official website for Overdose Awareness Day, and the website for The Salvation Army Crisis Service Programs. If you’re wondering why the Salvation Army would host a page on the history of Overdose Awareness Day, the answer is actually quite simple—they were largely responsible for the day’s inception. Overdose Awareness Day was started in Melbourne in 2001, following a conversation between Sally Finn (manager of a needle and syringe program in St. Kilda, Victoria) and Peter Streker (coordinator of the Community and Health Development Program at the City of Port Philip in Melbourne).

Finn was inspired by stories that she had encountered personally. She had counseled those who lost loved ones to overdose, and she met one person who had known seventeen such casualties. Through her counseling efforts, she became highly familiar with the stigma we discussed earlier. In speaking on the inspiration behind Overdose Awareness Day, she had this to say: “For mums and dads, who haven’t had much to do with the drug scene, this day is a non-threatening opportunity to speak the truth about what has happened to their families.” She continued by saying that those who attend Overdose Awareness Day events “often say the commemoration helped them experience a sense of peace.”

The first incarnation of Overdose Awareness Day was a simple ribbon ceremony for those who wanted to honor a friend or family member who was lost to the world as a result of drug overdose. The event was so successful that approximately six thousand ribbons were given out in total. Over the course of the next year, news of Overdose Awareness Day spread throughout Australia and New Zealand. They soon came out with the steel badge, which provided a slightly more tangible symbol of remembrance than the ribbons that had been previously used.

It wasn’t too long before Overdose Awareness Day was embraced across the globe. Overdose Awareness Day events can now be found in Norway, India, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Its organization was taken over by the Penington Institute in 2012, but the Salvation Army Crisis Services program still considers Overdose Awareness Day to be a proud moment in their history. They continue to advocate against the negative stereotypes that cause some people to look down on every overdose death as “just another junkie.”

Monday of next week will be the fifteenth Overdose Awareness Day, and there will be events all over the world in honor of those who have lost their lives while struggling with addiction. Further below, we’ll discuss some of the larger events available to our friends in the United States, as well as other ways in which you can contribute to the cause of spreading awareness to the less informed. For now, however, we’re going to talk a little bit about why Overdose Awareness Day is so important, and why we must all do what we can to help spread the message.

Why We Need Overdose Awareness

In 2009, an official video was released with information on Overdose Awareness Day. At that time, more than eleven thousand Australians had died of heroin overdoses since 1988. But heroin does not share sole responsibility for these overdoses. The video goes on to explain that many victims of drug-related deaths are found to have multiple drugs in their systems at the time. Most people understand how dangerous it is to take too many drugs, but not everyone realizes how dangerous it is to mix them.

Eleven thousand is a high number, which is why we regret to inform you that the situation in the United States is not much better. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were at least fourteen thousand heroin overdose deaths between 2012 and 2013 alone, with the numbers having increased steadily since 2001 (incidentally, the same year the first Overdose Awareness Day was organized). Overdose deaths due to prescription painkillers are even higher, maintaining rates of more than twenty thousand per year since around 2009. Most of these deaths are caused by opioids, while a smaller number are caused by benzodiazepines. Again, these rates rose almost steadily since 2001.

The only overdose death rates that appear to have been on the decline are cocaine deaths, which rose between 2001 and 2006, but then declined to over 29% over their rates in 2001. But when we’re talking about overdose death rates that “only” rose by more than a quarter, it becomes clear that there is a problem with drug addiction in this country. We can do our best to help those who enter our programs and sober living facilities, but we cannot help all of them.

The dangers of overdose present a grim reality. But the importance of saving lives does not present the sole purpose for Overdose Awareness Day. The 2009 YouTube video refers to Overdose Awareness Day as: “A day to remember the joy which was given by those we have lost.” It is important that we never lose sight of this mission statement. Savings lives is important, as is working to end the unfortunate stigma against those who suffer from addiction. But it’s also important that we simply remember those who have suffered, especially those who have touched our lives.

Fortunately, Overdose Awareness Day provides us with the perfect opportunity for remembrance, as well as the chance to share their stories with others. We must not take such opportunities with a grain of salt. Remember that each of the overdose death rates mentioned above was calculated based on a timeframe that began the very same year that Overdose Awareness Day was created. Overdose Awareness Day is a noble cause, and certainly does a lot of good for a lot of families. But more awareness is still needed in order to combat this growing problem. Below, we’ll talk about some of the ways in which this awareness can be achieved.

How to Help Spread the Message

Whether you show up to the purple-clad march in Palmetto, FL, or simply share a loved one’s story on social media, every bit helps. Simply remember that, whether at an event or on your own, you can help make a difference. (Corrie Bond/Marie Claire Australia)

Whether you show up to the purple-clad march in Palmetto, FL, or simply share a loved one’s story on social media, every bit helps. Simply remember that, whether at an event or on your own, you can help make a difference. (Corrie Bond/Marie Claire Australia)

If you wish to attend an Overdose Awareness Day event, you can find a comprehensive list on their official events feed. There are literally dozens of events all across the United States. For those who live in our home state of Florida, the only listed event at this time is the 7 PM “No Longer Silent” March in downtown Palmetto. For those who are able to attend, more information can be found on their Facebook post for the event. They ask that people who attend make signs if they wish, and that they all wear purple to help show their solidarity.

Those who live in many other major areas around the United States will find their own Overdose Awareness Day events. For instance, there are many in the state of New York. These include events in Binghamton, Saratoga Springs, and Watertown. There are also two events being held in the Bronx, and one event in New York proper. For those who live just outside of the New York area, there are two events in New Jersey, one in Pine Hill and the other in Blackwood. Other residents of the East Coast will find a fair number of events, including one in Philadelphia, one in Pittsburgh, several in Massachusetts, and others scattered around New England and its neighboring states.

Other major locations offering Overdose Awareness Day events include: Austin, TX; Chicago, IL; Knoxville, TN; Denver and Boulder County, CO; Portland, OR; Huntington Beach and San Clemente, CA; Louisville and Lexington, KY; and Indianapolis, IN. This only covers a few of the many, many Overdose Awareness Day events being held in the United States next week. If you’re interested in finding an event in your area, then look through the events feed linked above and see if you can find anything going on nearby.

For those who are unable to attend such an event, there are two other ways that one can formally demonstrate their support and appreciation for Overdose Awareness Day. The first is to wear one of their signature silver badges. These are sold in boxes of ten at minimum, which means that choosing to purchase a badge means you will be instantly motivated to share this symbol with friends and families, thereby spreading the message to everyone who asks what the badge is about. Those who cannot attend an event but do not wish to wear a badge can also help by simply donating to the cause.

But truth be told, you don’t have to do any of these things to contribute to Overdose Awareness Day. Should you? Absolutely, if you can. However, you can still make a contribution to the spirit of the event by simply sharing your experiences with others. Reach out on social media. Let people know that it is Overdose Awareness Day. Recall the memory of your fallen loved one(s). Even if you don’t personally know anyone who has succumbed to a drug-related death, you can post links to stories about other people who have suffered casualties, including favored celebrities. You can also post articles on the dangers of overdose in general.

No matter how you do it, be sure to do something. Overdose Awareness Day is often overlooked by the general public, but it really shouldn’t be. It means a lot to those of us who have been personally affected by addiction, whether directly or indirectly. But addiction can sneak up on people. We never know when this disease might surface, and before long, we’re saying goodbye to another dearly departed soul. We can’t always be ready for that. But we can at least be aware.

Help spread the message. This Monday, August 31, show your appreciation for Overdose Awareness Day in 2015.

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