International Overdose Awareness Day: 'A Time To Remember, A Time To Act'

By John Lavitt 08/31/16

On August 31, thousands of people will gather across the globe to commemorate lives cut short by overdoses and to raise awareness about the preventable tragedy. 

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International Overdose Awareness Day: 'A Time To Remember, A Time To Act'
Photo via Overdose Day

Originated in 2001 by Australian social workers, the annual International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) has taken on a greater global importance than ever before in 2016. In 2014 alone, there were an estimated 207,400 drug-related deaths worldwide, with overdose accounting for up to half of all deaths, according to the United Nations. As in the current overdose epidemic in the United States, most of the overdose fatalities were caused by opioid drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers.

Held every August 31, IOAD aims to raise overdose awareness while reducing the stigma of drug-related death. IOAD makes a point of acknowledging the grief felt by families and friends left behind as a result of substance use disorder, illegal drug abuse, and prescription drug misuse. So many people worldwide have dealt firsthand with a loved one who has died or experienced permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose.

A key part of the awareness function of IOAD is to spread the message that overdose death is a preventable tragedy. About 28,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2014 in the United States, more than in any other year on record. 

In 2001, Australian social worker Sally J. Finn was managing a needle and syringe program for the Salvation Army in Victoria, Australia, while Peter Streker was working with the Community and Health Development Program at the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne. Together, they decided to start an overdose awareness event to help grieving families.

“All these families are suffering in silence," Finn explains. "A lot of people begin taking these medications because they have been prescribed them for legitimate pain reasons and they fall into behaviors which mean they struggle not to use them. These are accidental deaths. No one is intending to die." 

Another feature of IOAD is the Overdose Aware app, which aims to raise awareness among drug users and their families, and teach them how to recognize overdose signs and respond appropriately. The app addresses the following:

• What is an overdose?

• What to do if you suspect an overdose

• Overdose symptoms for stimulants, depressants, alcohol and opioids

• After an overdose—tolerance, half life and brain damage

At OverdoseDay.com, those affected by overdose deaths are encouraged to read and post tributes to loved ones lost to drug-related deaths. The website also offers resources, facts and stats, as well as ways to get involved with the cause.

More overdose awareness is needed in the United States. According to the latest CDC statistics from 2014, 78 Americans die every day from an opioid-related overdose. Since the numbers have been rising, the current death toll is even higher.

Just last week, one area surrounding Cincinnati, Ohio saw 174 suspected heroin overdose cases in a six-day span. Will a single overdose awareness day be enough to make an impact on the tidal wave of drug abuse and death?

Click here to see if there's an International Overdose Awareness Day event near you.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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