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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

International Overdose Awareness Day: Time to End Stigma, Spread Naloxone


This year's global event can help to raise awareness of the many positive steps being taken in the US.

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August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual push to raise awareness about drug-related deaths and commemorate lives lost to accidental overdose. The global event also aims to reduce the stigma surrounding drug use.

Worldwide, an estimated 183,000 people died from drug-related deaths (mostly overdoses) in 2012. The US has by far the highest rate of overdoses in the world, followed by the UK; in both countries, OD fatalities exceed deaths from traffic accidents.

In the US, deaths from Rx opioids (like oxycodone) rose 23% between 2006 and 2011, reaching a total of to 16,917 in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And heroin deaths spiked 110% to 4,397 over the same time period.

Overdose deaths are preventable. Naloxone is a medication that can reverse overdoses from opioid drugs (heroin or painkillers) within minutes. And faced with so many unnecessary deaths, more US states are pushing to make naloxone more widely available: 24 states (plus DC) have now passed laws expanding access to naloxone—17 of them within the last two years.

“It could be the difference between life and death,” says Louise Vincent, an outreach worker for the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition who has saved many lives by administering naloxone.

There are now 26 states where at least one police department has equipped officers with the lifesaving drug. When officers in one New Jersey county began carrying the drug this spring, six lives were saved within the first month.

Meanwhile, 17 states and DC have passed “good Samaritan” laws, guaranteeing legal immunity for those who call for help when someone else overdoses.

To get involved in International Overdose Awareness Day, find out if there is an event near you or how to organize one yourself. Also, educate yourself! Learn how to how to recognize an overdose and when to call an ambulance. And you can join others in wearing a silver ribbon to show support.