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International Overdose Awareness Day Is August 31. Here’s Why It Matters.

International Overdose Awareness Day Is August 31. Here’s Why It Matters.

When it comes to addiction and overdose, there are a lot of statistics that illustrate the degree to which our nation is suffering from an addiction epidemic. It isn’t necessarily easy to digest the full spectrum of the problem, but, consider this: Whether it be you, your child, your parent, your grandchild, sibling, friend or spouse – any person under the age of 50 is more likely to die of a drug overdose than any other cause. Statistically speaking, if you’re under 50, you’re more likely to lose your life to a drug overdose than cancer or any other illness. If you’re under 50, you’re more likely to lose your life to a drug overdose than a car wreck. Overdose is one of the single biggest killers in our country. Currently, it is estimated that in 2016, nearly 60,000 Americans died of a drug overdose. While overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. and quickly rising among both men and women of all races – there has never been a more important time than to break the silence and the stigma to talk about overdose.

What Is International Overdose Awareness Day?

At Vertava Health, when we talk about addiction, we usually focus on healing, finding balance, and recovery. Unfortunately, with addiction, the tragic reality is that drug and alcohol use can have a deadly ending. Addictions take people and their families to some of the darkest places imaginable – as the term ‘overdose’ can become all too real. International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), which falls on August 31 each year, has been in existence for more than 15 years. Now, more than ever, this commemorative day is recognized globally as a time to raise awareness about overdose – and a time to work towards overdose prevention. IOAD has become a global effort to encourage discussion about drug use, use, addiction and prevention – and educate the public about the risks of overdose. It’s also a day to break the stigma of addiction and overdose by encouraging those affected by each to mourn the loss of those lost to overdose and addiction – and to celebrate the survivors.

Why Should We Recognize Drug Overdoses?

The topic of overdose is receiving more attention than ever. From viral videos of people overdosing on the streets or in their vehicles, to showcasing the Naloxone training for first responders – media coverage of overdose has taken a front seat in many regions. That being said, you may wonder why so many people continue to talk about it. Unfortunately, the realities of drug addiction and overdose are hitting closer and closer to home. While you may believe that overdose only happens to people who have lost their homes, their jobs, their families or so on – that’s simply not the case. More and more people are dying from overdose each year; these people are parents, siblings, spouses, employees, friends, sons, daughters and co-workers. Deaths from drug overdose up for both men and women of all ages, races, demographics, and socioeconomics. For example:

  • Men are more likely to die from overdose, but the mortality gap between men and women is shrinking
  • From 2010-2013, female heroin overdoses tripled
  • From 1999-2010, prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400%
  • From 1999-2010, prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among men increased 237%

Opioid Overdose Deaths The majority of these drug overdose deaths involved an opioid (about 60%). Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin – as well as prescription drugs including oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine – and the synthetic opioid fentanyl. At surface level, it may seem that heroin would be the leading cause for this growth – after all, nearly four out of five new heroin users report starting out by misusing prescription painkillers – and heroin can be significantly less expensive and easier to obtain than prescription opioids. However, you may be surprised to know that only about 25% of drug overdoses in 2015 were from heroin. Instead, nearly 40% of overdose deaths in 2015 were related to prescription pain relievers. Since 1999 the amount of prescription opioids sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled. Since 1999, deaths from prescription opioids has more than quadrupled. The most commonly overdosed opioids include:

In the U.S., it’s especially important to consider that overdose deaths are more often a result of prescription pills than illegally purchased substances. Contrary to many popular beliefs, prescription drugs are more lethal than many illegal or street drugs. Prescription pill use and addiction result in more deaths than heroin. Behind prescription opioids, the other most commonly used classes of prescription drugs are benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Klonopin or Valium; and barbiturates, including Amytal and Nembutal.

Why International Overdose Awareness Day Matters

There’s no way around it: Having the need to recognize overdose is unfortunate. However, it’s critical to have a day like this in order to encourage recovery from addiction, to educate the public about this epidemic, and to allow families to grieve the loss of loved ones. International Overdose Awareness Day gives us and people around the world a chance to talk openly about the realities of addiction and overdose. In order to bring change, we have to talk about this; we have to get down to the sad facts; we have to break the stigma; we have to remove the shame; we have to find solutions. What will you be doing this August 31? At Vertava Health and across the country, we’ll be recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day with the hope that our message reaches the eyes and ears who need to hear this message.