Taking action on International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Drug overdose death rates worldwide are skyrocketing: of the estimated 78,000 deaths in 2010 because of illegal drug use, more than half were due to painkillers, according to a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet. And in the U.S., drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54, killing over 38,000 people in 2010; many of these deaths were caused by prescription opiates.

The painkiller addiction epidemic has also led to a rise in heroin abuse. A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that found that four out of five recent heroin initiates — about 79% — previously used prescription pain relievers non-medically. According to SAMHSA, the number of people reporting that they have used heroin in the past 12 months rose from 373,000 people in 2007 to 620,000 people in 2011. Similarly, the number of people dependent on heroin in the past 12 months climbed from 179,000 people in 2007 to 369,000 people in 2011.

As this editorial notes, despite the widespread nature of painkiller and heroin abuse, those who are addicted continue to be stigmatized.

So, what can be done?

Several things:

Share your personal story. All too often, fear and shame keep people from talking about how addiction has affected their lives. Start talking. End the silence. My brother Pat was addicted to prescription painkillers and later heroin, but he kept much of his addiction hidden from his family because he felt ashamed. After Pat died of a heroin overdose in 2009, I wanted to understand how these pills had transformed him from a fun-loving ball of energy to a heroin addict hell-bent on getting his next fix. I set out on a painful personal journey, turning a journalistic eye on Pat’s addiction; in the process, I was startled to discover the rising number of young heroin addicts whose addiction began with pills. I also found some of Pat’s journals and learned how deeply he struggled with feelings that he had let us down — a sense of shame that has been echoed by many of those I’ve interviewed. I wish I had known this before he died. I wish he wasn’t the reason behind this website.

Educate yourself and others. Here’s a list of resources to get you started. Learn more about what to do in the event of an opiate overdose here, or contact The DOPE Project.

Donate. There are hundreds of organizations and foundations addressing drug addiction. Why not put your money towards something that actually reverses the effects of an opiate overdose? Naloxone reverses the dangerous effects of taking too much OxyContin or heroin by counteracting the depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. In the past decade, more than 50,000 people have been trained to recognize and respond to an overdose and given naloxone rescue kits, resulting in over 10,000 overdose rescues. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports Narcan and promotes drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

Support Good Samaritan laws, which aim to reduce overdose deaths by protecting people who call for medical help for overdose victims from being prosecuted for personal possession of drugs, paraphernalia or underage drinking. Even though opiate overdoses are on the rise, many people don’t call 911 out of fear of arrest and prosecution, and instead rely on ineffective methods of reviving victims.

Remember. There will be candlelight vigils, rallies, fundraisers and other events in cities around the country. Or send Oxy Watchdog pictures of your loved one, and we’ll honor them on our Memory Wall.

Spread the word. Share the Oxy Watchdog blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed with everyone you know.

Thanks for your support.

Erin Marie Daly
Founder, Oxy Watchdog

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About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My book on prescription drug and heroin addiction was published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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