On August 31, folks from around the world come together, both in community and online, to take part in International Overdose Awareness Day.
International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
Creating awareness of one of the world’s worst public health crises
At least 269 million people around the world used drugs in 2018, which is 30% more than in 2009.
While it has been 5 years since BC declared the overdose crisis a public health emergency, COVID-19 has significantly exacerbated the frequency of overdoses and overdose deaths. In Canada, 5,148 people lost their lives to an apparent opioid overdose from April to December 2020 alone, representing a 89% increase from the same time period in 2019.
In 2020, almost 17 people died every single day in Canada from an opioid overdose.
No community has been left untouched by the overdose crisis.
Stigma and discrimination serve as significant barriers for people who use substances to access the supports and services that they may need to prevent overdose.
Using harm reduction and judgement free approaches to supporting people who use drugs and other substances
When it comes to a harm reduction approach, I always carry a naloxone kit on me when I am around clients that I know are in active addiction. I will also check in regularly with those clients and see if they need any supplies (needles, pipe, naloxone etc.). For those who do sex work, I offer to bring them to get free condoms.
I try to promote the importance of using condoms, not sharing needles, pipes or any drug supplies. I explain to individuals that most people in active addiction aren’t being checked for STDs often, and Hep C/HIV can very easily be caught via needle sharing and sometimes people may not even know they have a contagious disease. It is important to be safe for not only themselves but others as well.
I inform folks about safe injection sites, explain how to use naloxone when needed, remind them about safety precautions, and occasionally bring a (naloxone) kit for people and leave it in their room or backpack, letting them know it is there just in case. I have also spoken to a couple clients about substance use counselling.
– Kaila, CLS Outreach Worker in Surrey
Naloxone (Narcan®) saves lives by temporarily reversing the effects of opioid overdoses. All JHS Pacific staff participate in naloxone training, and a range of other formal and informal training on harm reduction, trauma informed, and judgement free practices.
Integrating innovative technology to prevent and respond to overdose
Seeing the influx of overdoses and the tragic losses of many near and dear to the JHS community, we’ve doubled down on our efforts to prevent and respond to overdoses.
One way that we’ve done this is through installing Brave Sensors in the public washrooms at our Vancouver Community Services Office (CSO).
Our Vancouver CSO serves as a safe judgement-free space that all folks within the community can access to receive supports, computers, coffee, resources and other things they may need. With frequent incidences of opioid overdose in public washrooms having been well documented, we wanted to be proactive in ensuring that we have the resources necessary to actively respond to an overdose.
Overdose is preventable
In order to prevent deaths from overdose, folks using substances need a safe, stigma-free spaces, harm reduction supplies, and a support network that they can lean on to support them with their needs and goals. These are all things that we provide here at JHS Pacific as we support people with complex needs facing multiple barriers to become empowered in their own lives and to be part of a safe, supportive, and inclusive community.