Deaths by overdose are at a record high
In the United States, overdose deaths increased by 30% between 2019 and 2020.
The number grew again, by 15%, into 2021. According to the CDC, there were approximately 107,000 overdose deaths recorded in America last year.
And it’s not just the states. In 2021, The Public Health Agency of Canada reported an approximate average of 21 opioid toxicity deaths per day.
Even at home, local to Asheville in Buncombe county, overdose has become a pressing public concern. Deaths from overdose in Buncombe county have nearly quadrupled in comparison to ten years ago, with nearly 120 deaths from overdose recorded in 2020.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day
International Overdose Awareness Day was started in 2001 in Melbourne by Sally J. Finn. Today, the observance is coordinated by the Australian public health organization Penington Institute, whose vision is to connect experience and research to improve safety, awareness, and education about drugs.
The goals of observing International Overdose Awareness Day are to spread education, pour out empathy, and drive change through several actions:
- Providing opportunities for the families and friends of those who lost a loved one to overdose to grieve in a safe space with no stigma attached
- Giving community members information on fatal and non-fatal overdoses and risks
- Sending a message to current and former users of drugs that they are valued
- Stimulating discussion in our communities and with our policymakers around overdose prevention and related drug policy
- Providing essential information on support services available to those who use drugs
- Preventing and reducing drug-related harm by supporting proven policy and practice
Overdose drugs: the worst offenders
By far, synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the most common cause of death due to drug overdose. More than 71,000 opioid overdose deaths were recorded in the U.S. last year.
Psychostimulants like meth are the second most common, causing roughly half the number of deaths as opioids.
Cocaine and prescription drugs follow, together accounting for roughly 38,000 overdose-related deaths in the U.S. last year.
What can be done?
Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, advocates for investing in four critical areas of change:
- Providing proven medical intervention and treatment for substance use disorders, overcoming the historical reluctance and financial barriers long associated with these treatments.
- Implementing evidence-based harm reduction programs. Research has shown that, contrary to common public opinion, providing services like these does not encourage or sanction drug use, but rather improves safety for community members facing addiction.
- Eliminating the prejudiced attitudes and infrastructures that harm people with substance use disorders, and extending compassion, care, and support to those using drugs, or those who return to drug use. Everyone needs safe housing, employment, and healthcare.
- Taking action on a nationwide basis to address the social and economic stressors that increase drug use. Poverty, housing instability, social isolation, and other such environmental stressors are major contributors to drug addiction and overdose, and these are risk factors we should seek to change, as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.
Affected by overdose?
Overdose: We have to talk about it to stop it
Whether you yourself have struggled with disordered drug use, whether you’ve known someone harmed by overdose, or whether you’re simply looking to be part of the solution: Talk about it.
If you or someone you love is taking prescription opioids, talk about the risks of overdose.
If you’ve lost someone you love, honor their memory and tell their story. It could help someone.
If you’re struggling with mental health or situational hardships, tell someone. You are valued.