It is estimated that death by overdose has increased to a startling 120 deaths per day in North America and 187,000 deaths annually across the globe. Drug overdose does not discriminate and affects people of all socioeconomic levels, races, languages, beliefs, and cultures. Overdose permeates many lives and continues to rapidly spread across the globe.
Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, we pause to honor those whose lives have been tragically lost to overdose and remember that they are not defined by their death, but by their life. We band together to honor those we have lost and fight for those who are still alive. We do this by raising awareness, reducing stigma around drug-related death, acknowledging grief felt by family and friends of those who have lost a loved one to overdose, and sharing that recovery is possible.
The stigma of drug-related death ceases to yield its powers over our culture and shape the way we view these tragedies. The use of drugs in America has been criminalized, demonized, and fashioned to be an issue of judgment rather than one of compassion. This approach fails to acknowledge reasons people most often turn to drugs: chronic pain, depression, anxiety, mental health disorders, trauma, and a lack of healthy coping skills. The use of drugs in the face of these issues takes the edge off of the pain and provides relief from suffering. Instead of condemning these behaviors, let’s reach out a hand in support. Instead of viewing drug-users as criminals, let’s see them as individuals looking for relief. We want to share with you that the stigma around drug-related death doesn’t help reduce the amount of drug-related deaths; it increases it by placing shame on individuals using drugs and removing the safe space to ask for help.
In addition to reducing stigma, we want increase awareness by sharing the signs and symptoms of overdose and what to do in response. This knowledge enables you to have the information to reach out and help save a life if you see these symptoms. Signs include:
Face is clammy to the touch and has lost color; having trouble speaking
Body is limp. Fingertips or lips have a blue or purple tinge
Sleeping is deep and cannot be woken
Snoring or gurgling
Breathing is slow, shallow, labored, or has stopped
Heartbeat is slow or has stopped
Now you know what overdose symptoms look like. So, what do you do? According to overdoseday.org, your next steps are:
Check for danger
Call an ambulance and stay on the line
Put the person in recovery position (to learn more about the recovery position, check out this video).
If you have access to narcan/naloxone, assemble the mini-jet or ampoule and inject into thigh or upper arm (if you have a nasal spray, spray into one side of the nasal canal)
If there has been no response within 3-5 minutes, and if you have it available, administers another dose of narcan/naloxone
Now that you have the information to help someone experiencing an overdose, it’s important to discuss options for recovery. Overdose can often be a sign of addiction and recovery from addiction is possible. There are a variety of levels of care available from outpatient to residential treatment and many approaches to achieving sobriety and starting the journey of recovery. A licensed clinician can provide guidance about which level of care is best for an individual.
Additionally, if a person experiencing chronic pain has a history of using opiates for pain-relief, recovery from chronic pain is possible. For example, at Driftwood Recovery, we use a holistic approach to chronic pain recovery that does not incorporate the use of opiates. This approach treats the individual from a holistic perspective, viewing healing through a mind-body-spirit lens in which all areas need to be addressed to achieve fullness of healing. There is something available for individuals in every stage of this process. The continuum of care ranges from extended care to residential treatment and a licensed clinician can provide guidance about which level of care is best for an individual. Some of the holistic approaches to chronic pain recovery include experiential therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional therapy, acupuncture, massage, yoga therapy, and meditation (you can learn more about these approaches in my article, Dethroning the Reign of Opiates in Chronic Pain Recovery). These can all be used in place of opiates and as conduits for healing from chronic pain, addiction, and to prevent overdose.
We deeply feel for those mourning the loss of their loved ones and want to join you in honoring their lives. Recovery is possible and opiates are not the answer to pain relief. Join us in raising awareness today and every day about the overdose epidemic across the globe.