The Drug Policy Alliance will join dozens of organizations in the U.S. and abroad participating in International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The day honors and remembers those who have lost their lives to an overdose. The occasion is also an opportunity to educate policymakers and the public about a variety of proven solutions, such as ‘911 Good Samaritan’ laws and the life-saving opiate overdose reversal medication, naloxone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose death rates in the US have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. In 2009, more than 37,000 people died from drug overdoses, and many of these deaths were caused by prescription painkiller opiate drugs, such as oxycodone.
“Accidental fatal overdose continues to be a serious problem in the U.S,” said Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance, “but organizations like the American Medical Association and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators are beginning to come out in support of expanded access to naloxone. It’s a bit of a breakthrough, really, and it’s long overdue. We’re finally seeing a real national shift away from a punitive response to drug overdose to a more health-centered one.”
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One health-centered response to overdose receiving national attention in recent months is the ‘911 Good Samaritan’ immunity policy, now passed in nine states including New Mexico, Washington, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Momentum is growing, as five states passed a 911 Good Samaritan law in 2012 alone. These policies encourage people who are witnessing an overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest for minor drug law violations. Parents say this common sense law should be replicated across the country.
“Our Overdose Awareness Day rally in Palm Springs is just one of many organized by parents like me, who’ve lost a child to an overdose,” said Denise Cullen, director of national parents’ support organization Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. “We know better than anyone that 911 Good Samaritan laws are a must. Nine states have done the right thing, but we need this everywhere. And we know better than anyone that funding for, and access to, naloxone is critical in this fight to save the lives of our kids.”
Cullen and dozens of organizations and advocates are promoting the National Naloxone Fund, as a way to explain the role naloxone has been playing in saving lives, as well as explaining the funding crisis that has led to a shortage of naloxone availability and overdose prevention programs. A recent CDC report confirms the importance of access to naloxone at community-based overdose prevention programs. More than 10,000 overdoses have been successfully reversed with naloxone, according to the report.
“The stigma of overdose is reinforced by the reality that donors and major health foundations are not actively funding this work. The situation is dire. We urgently need major foundations and philanthropists to take an active role,” said Ralston. “Non-profits can’t afford to keep funding this work alone. We need help, immediately. It’s that simple.”
Advocates are using social media to help get the word out. Twitter is the social media hub of activity for Overdose Awareness Day. To join the global conversation on August 31, people are encouraged to include the hashtag #OD12 in their tweets.
There will be candlelight vigils, rallies, fundraisers and other events in cities around the country, including San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver, Palm Springs, New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego. A full list of national events is available at www.drugpolicy.org/overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day was initiated by the Salvation Army in Australia in 2001. The day is an opportunity for people around the world to publicly mourn loved ones and send a strong message to current and former drug users that their lives are valued and that no one should ever die from a preventable fatal drug overdose.