Overdose Awareness Saves Lives – Overdose Awareness Day, August 31
By Becca Muncy
International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that takes place on August 31 each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death.
This year’s International Overdose Awareness Day in Waco will be hosted by the VASA (Voices Against Substance Abuse) Community Coalition, a program of VOICE (Viable Options in Community Endeavors), a nonprofit that teaches healthy living skills, including avoiding substance abuse. The event includes:
- Virtual overdose training from Baylor University’s Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center (one session in the morning form 10-11:45 and one in the afternoon from 3-4:45)
- Food and refreshments from MHMR Substance Abuse Services from 1:00-6:00 PM at 2220 Austin Ave.
- NARCAN overdose reversal kits provided by Central Texas Harm Reduction, available at 2220 Austin Ave.
- T-shirts provided by Texas Harm Reduction Alliance, also available at 2220 Austin Ave.
- Referrals for free telehealth family counseling sessions for families affected by addiction
In addition to the trainings and activities listed above, the I-35 Interstate bridge near McLane stadium will also be lit purple in remembrance of those who have died or been injured by overdose.
In the United States, 67,367 overdose deaths occurred in 2018 (Center for Disease Control) and 70,980 occurred in 2019 (American Hospital Association). And with the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of drug related deaths have risen by 18%, as people struggle with isolation and those who are in addiction recovery programs are cut off from their support systems (NPR). Now, more than ever, raising awareness of overdose, recognizing the signs of overdose, learning how to prevent or reverse overdose, and grieving with the loved ones of overdose victims is vital.
The main goal of International Overdose Awareness Day is to bring awareness and education to the community. Jessica Wheeler-Macias, Community Coalition Coordinator at VOICE, said it’s important for everyone to know the basics of overdose prevention and reversal, and that breaking down the stigma around discussions of overdose is an important step in spreading that knowledge. Breaking down the stigma includes breaking down the stereotypes of those affected by addiction or overdose. Wheeler-Macias said she wishes everyone knew that the issue of overdose doesn’t discriminate, and that there is no one type of person who will become a victim of overdose, as victims come from all walks of life. “It can be anyone,” Wheeler-Macias said, adding that family members didn’t create the disease of addiction that led to overdose.
Lily Ettinger, Assistant Director of Wellness of Recovery Services at the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center, stressed the importance of widespread education as well, saying, “Most people aren’t overdosing in professional settings… it’s in their homes and communities, so it’s important for everyone, not just first responders, to be empowered in knowing how to respond.” She also said something she wished more people knew about overdose prevention is that overdosing often isn’t as extreme as it’s shown in the media and that overdose deaths aren’t always instantaneous. She pointed specifically to opioid overdose, which can happen over the course of several hours, where “there is time available to save someone’s life.”
Ettinger has also seen the effect overdose education and overdose prevention has on overdose survivors, saying, “Their lives today aren’t the same as they were back then, but that’s because they were gifted the chance to survive.”
Wheeler-Macias said she hopes this event will start new conversations about overdose and overdose prevention. She hopes with the training and information provided during the event, people will be able to better identify the signs and signals of overdose and not be afraid to address it when they see it. She said the biggest takeaway she hopes people will have is the simple fact that overdose is a “completely preventable death” and that everyone has the opportunity to save a life with the appropriate training, and that the Waco community has the opportunity to raise “everyday heroes.” And in the end, those everyday heroes, Wheeler-Macias said, “Are what make the world go around… people helping people.”
For those who find themselves hungry to learn and do more after August 31, Ettinger said Waco has “a wealth of resources” including those participating in this event and beyond, like the Central Texas Harm Reduction, Cenikor, The VASA Coalition, the Poison Control Center, Oxford Houses, and the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center.
Sign ups for the Beauchamp Addiction Recovery Center’s overdose prevention training sessions are available at https://www.baylor.edu/barc/index.php?id=972252 and more information about International Overdose Awareness Day can be found on the VASA Community Coalition Facebook page.
Becca Muncy is an Act Locally intern from Dallas. She is studying professional writing at Baylor University and is completing her senior year.
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