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Working Together to End Stigma: International Overdose Awareness Day

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What is International Overdose Awareness Day?

International Overdose Awareness Day is on August 31 and is a yearly campaign to remember and grieve those who lost their lives to overdose and acknowledge family and friends who have been affected. The day is also a reminder that we must work together to end the stigma surrounding substance use disorder and do what we can to reduce the number of overdose deaths.

National Drug Overdose Statistics

Being aware of overdose statistics can help spread awareness about the seriousness of drug use and overdoses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • More than 107,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in the year 2021.
  • Since 1999, overdose deaths involving opioids (heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl) have increased by over 700%.
  • In 2020, almost 75% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids.
  • In 2020, nearly 69,000 people died from an opioid overdose, and 82% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids.

Who is Most at Risk for Overdose?

Over 20 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder. Some are more likely to develop the illness than others, based on their genetics, environment, and health history. Some factors that can contribute to someone’s risk for a substance use disorder include:

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions, such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • A family member who has a substance use disorder
  • Exposure to or having access to addictive substances
  • A history of physical, emotional, or sexual trauma

Anyone who begins using addictive substances is at risk for overdose. Some members of the population that are at a higher risk for fatal overdose include:

  • Individuals recently incarcerated – Individuals who are incarcerated have a forced period of abstinence. During this time, tolerance decreases. If an individual relapses following release from jail or prison and attempts to use the same amount they used prior to incarceration, they are at an increased risk of fatal overdose.
  • Those who are in recovery – Abstinence leads to a decrease in tolerance. When a person who once used drugs begins taking a drug again after abstaining, they are at an increased risk of overdose if they resume taking the same amount, they were accustomed to prior to discontinuing use.
  • Anyone who may obtain fentanyl – Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid that has become a significant concern in the US over the past few years. A small amount of the substance can be fatal, and many individuals aren’t aware that they are taking it. It is often detected in drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine.

How can Providers Help Prevent Overdose?

There are several things that providers can do to help prevent overdose, especially when prescribing opioids.

1. Prescribe Naloxone

Naloxone is a prescription medication used to reverse an opioid overdose by quickly blocking the effects of the drug to restore regular breathing. One thing that providers can do to help prevent opioid overdose is to prescribe naloxone when appropriate.

“Anyone prescribing opioids should also prescribe naloxone,” suggests Gina Cooper, Director of Toxicology at DRUGSCAN. “Not only should they prescribe naloxone, but they should also ensure the prescription was filled and that there is someone available in the home who is trained to administer it.”

Those prescribed naloxone should also be aware that it only works to reverse an overdose that is caused by opioids. It is also important to note that naloxone is short-acting, so 911 should be called immediately when an overdose is suspected, even when naloxone is administered.

2. Help End the Stigma

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around substance use disorder and overdose. This stigma is motivated by certain harmful stereotypes about those who struggle with use disorders. People with a substance use disorder may internalize this stigma and begin to see themselves as having less value and distance themselves from friends and family. Most importantly, the stigma associated with substance use can deter people from seeking help and treatment. Healthcare providers can help to end the stigma by reinforcing that addiction is a chronic mental health condition, not a character flaw.

There can also be a lot of misconceptions about recovery. Those in recovery may relapse at some point, and instead of seeing this as a failure, healthcare providers can encourage patients to see this as a setback that often happens within the duration of a chronic illness. Doing this can reduce the shame and other strong negative emotions that might cause someone to continue using instead of continuing treatment for long term recovery.

3. Monitor for Signs and Symptoms of Medication Misuse

Toxicology testing plays a vital role in preventing substance use disorders. Toxicology testing can help providers monitor their patient’s prescription opioid use and detect the first signs of medication misuse and other drug use. When looking at testing results, providers should pay close attention to results that are negative for the prescribed medication, positive for non-prescribed medications, and positive for illicit drugs. When providers detect misuse early, they can implement the appropriate intervention to reduce the risk of substance use disorders. 

Read More: How Opioid Misuse Develops into Substance Use Disorder

DRUGSCAN is dedicated to working with providers to reduce the number of overdose deaths through efficient toxicology testing. Together, we hope to end the stigma and improve patient outcomes by detecting the first signs of substance use disorders.

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Prescription Drug Monitoring

DRUGSCAN will partner with you as an extension of your patient care team to keep those who are using prescription medications safe.

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