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AUGUST 31 IS INTERNATIONAL OVERDOSE AWARENESS DAY
International Overdose Awareness Day
held on August 31s each year. Commemorating those who have met with death or
permanent injury as a result of drug overdose, it
aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a
drug-related death, especially for those mourning the loss of family and
friends. It also spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
“Overdose is preventable and we can make a
difference by responding in our communities. People who use drugs are very
interested in improving their health and preventing overdose. We have had a
take-home naloxone program operating at Toronto Public Health for 2 years and
it has been such a success - being used with a positive outcome in 100
overdoses. We need to take action to make these programs more available, we have
already lost too many people,” stated Shaun Hopkins, Manager of The Works in Toronto.
With only a few provinces actively reporting overdose
fatalities, it is difficult to gauge the extent of opioid-related overdose deaths
and injuries across Canada. But overdoses are a rising concern as more people
are prescribed opioid medications. The lack of data is a disturbing issue in
Canada especially when we look to the U.S. where comprehensive data from the US
Centres of Disease Control is available.
“Overdose is not a unique
phenomena specific to any group of people. It can happen within any family,
community, or population and the effects can be devastating. It is time that we
stop ignoring overdose, stop ignoring that people are dying, and stop believing
that it cannot happen to us or our loved ones. It is time that we develop and
embrace the education, awareness, and prevention programs that will save
lives,” said Ashley Cherwichan, Clinical Instructor at the Sheldon M. Cumir
Health Centre in Calgary.
recent years, Canada’s approach to overdose has fallen behind more
progressive efforts around the world – even in the U.S., the White House’s 2013 National Drug Control Strategy includes
an enhanced focus on overdose prevention and intervention.
“Canada needs a
national overdose prevention strategy that focuses on raising awareness
of the simple and effective ways we can help prevent and treat overdose,” said
Donald MacPherson, Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
Canada marking International Overdose Awareness Day 2012
year Ottawa is hosting an event at the Human Rights Monument on Elgin St. (at
Laurier St.) in front of City Hall from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm. This year's theme is awareness and prevention. After
the guest speakers at the Human Rights Monument, there will be a walk to
Parliament Hill from 12:00 to 12:30 pm.
Toronto: Corner Drop-In at St.
Stephen’s Community House will hold a simple memorial event from 9:30-10:30 am,
260 Augusta Ave. The Works, a harm reduction program,
will offer an overdose training blitz to mark this day.
This year Streetworks is hosting a Raising
Awareness and Honouring Lives Lost Event on August 30, 12:00 to 1:30 pm, City
Hall, Candlelight Service, speech by the Medical Officer of Health, Information
booths, raffle with proceeds to Overdose Awareness, sponsored by Streetworks.
Montreal: AQPSUD (L’Association
Québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de
drogues) will hold a vigil to honour the lives lost to overdose on August 28th,
at 6:00 pm in Berri Square.
Calgary: August 30th, 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, The Calgary-based Sheldon
M. Chumir Health Centre will host an overdose awareness booth. Peer outreach
will also be provided throughout the community. The goal of the day is to raise
awareness that overdose affects all walks of life and is preventable.
coalition of groups is holding a Community Gathering and Call to Action
followed by a vigil and open mic from 11:00 to 2:00 pm on August 30th on the Pandora Green in
the 900 block of Pandora Avenue.
- Rates of overdose from opioids (synthetic drugs
like fentanyl and Oxy) and opiates (drug like heroin) appear to be on the
increase in Canada and recent policy changes to contain the supply of opioids may
have the unintended effect of increasing overdoses. In some places, opioid
overdoses have surpassed car accidents as a cause of death.
- Opioid overdose injuries and deaths are
preventable, but the scale-up of overdose prevention programs requires key
policy and legislative shifts. At its 2012 annual meeting, the UN Commission on
Narcotic Drugs passed a resolution that recommends that countries establish a comprehensive
overdose strategy. To date, Canada has not acted on this resolution, even
though the recent U.S. National Drug Control strategy includes a focus on
overdose prevention and treatment.
- Naloxone, a safe and effective emergency medication
that can temporarily reverse opioid overdoses, must be made more broadly
available. Naloxone is currently a prescription-only medication but could be
rescheduled to make it available over-the-counter similar to an EpiPen used to
treat allergic reactions. Naloxone must also be included in provincial drug
plans to ensure that its costs are not so high that people cannot access this
drug when needed. Using naloxone to treat opioid overdose is also cost-effective.
In the U.S., costs of a drug overdose have been estimated to be approximately
$37,000 while a naloxone kit costs approximately $25.00.
- A few pioneering communities in Canada have
implemented take-home naloxone programs. These programs provide training to
people who use drugs and all potential witnesses to an overdose on how to
prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose including how to administer
naloxone, provide emergency first aid and call for help. These programs should
be expanded to every community dealing with drug overdose. The U.S. has 180
- Barriers to calling 911 during a drug
overdose would be reduced by implementing national 911 Good Samaritan legislation. This
legislation could provide limited immunity from drug charges for people who ask
for help during a drug overdose. 12 states in the U.S. have passed similar
forms of legislation, often with bi-partisan support.
- Given that opioid overdoses are occurring among
people who are using these drugs as prescribed, ensure that prescribers provide
information on the risks of overdose to their patients.
- Canada lacks a national body that can produce
timely comparative data on drug overdose injuries and deaths in Canada. Data is
only available sporadically. We must ensure that we have data on drug overdose
injuries and deaths so that we can plan for the future.
Cherniwchan, RN, BSCN
Instructor, Harm Reduction
M. Chumir Health Centre,
(tel) 403 955 6574
SOLID (Society of Living Intravenous Drug Users)
Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition is a partner project with the
Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA), a
research centre based at the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser
University's Vancouver campus.