An oncoming Saturday, on 31 August, will be the annual international Overdose Awareness Day.
It’s a day often known and remarked on for its solemn but beautiful events. People talk about how we can act as communities to prevent overdoses. More tellingly, more painfully, it’s also a time when people grieve. When we as a society embrace individuals who publicly remember those who are gone because of overdoses of alcohol, illicit drugs and pharmaceuticals, and/or people who have been irrevocably damaged mentally and physically.
Alongside those brave enough to share their pain, we walk through stories. Memories. We meet loved ones who have left this life.
The international Overdose Awareness Day started in Melbourne back in 2001 when Sally Finn, then a manager of a Salvation Army needle and syringe program, was moved by the hurt all around here – the embattled survivors of overdoses, and the families of those people who didn’t.
She saw how ODs left us without a place or a time where we could grieve and mourn our loss; lost friends and relatives were seen (if they were acknowledged at all) as pariahs. In those not so long ago ‘bad old days’, those who had died from overdose were judged, stigmatised and dismissed as druggies; individuals whose demise was self-inflicted.
An initial ‘event of remembrance’ was held, to commemorate those lost or damaged daughters and sons. Brothers and sisters. Partners and spouses. Mates and rellies. Sally was surprised to realise on that first OAD that she and her colleagues had given out 6,000 ribbons. The day grew. More lives were touched. More countries joined the event. More memories were shared.
In 2012 the organising of international Overdose Awareness Day was passed from Salvation Army Crisis Services to the non-profit Australian public health body Anex, which works to ‘increase understanding of – and improve responses to – the problems arising from the use of and alcohol and other drugs’.
As always OAD is a chance for families, friends, NGOS and churches, governments and health services, police and ambulance officers etc. to educate the general public about the nature and responses to overdoses. More deeply, more confrontingly, it is a time to ‘be there’ for people who weep at death and the price of overdoses.
You can help. You can hold an event, you can talk about drugs and overdoses to friends, children, colleagues. You can use Twitter and facebook, etc. to promote the day.
With this year’s OAD theme, ‘Right dose, wrong dose, overdose’, you can learn about ‘escalating dose rates and the possible consequences’, which applies ‘equally to people taking prescription medications or anyone using illicit drugs’.
It’s a lonely life if nobody’s in your corner. If you care about the world you are living in, it’s a logical and helpful next step to care about your fellow human beings – more Australians now are dying of overdoses than are dying on our roads. Let's raise people's awareness of the dangers of overdoses, and let's note the passing of people who fought and fell against addictions, and those who accidentally left this life in an attempt to make the pain go away.