Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s known as the day when agencies and businesses come together to recognize horrific loss associated with overdose. But according to Mark Anderson, a recovering heroin user and Washington resident, he hasn’t heard anything about it on the news or radio.
“I knew it was Overdose Awareness Day, because people in my last NA meeting brought it up. I expected to hear something about it on Fox News or someone with D.C. government,” he said, “but I haven’t heard anything about it coming up, or mentioned on the news this morning,”
He said that he’s heard about President Obama’s job speech set for next week before a full Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus’ disdain for the White House not taking a stronger position [on anything], the flooding in the northeast from Hurricane Irene, and Rick Perry overtaking Romney in a few polls, but nothing about a problem that has become worse in recent years.
It’s reported that in 2007, more than 27,000 people died from an accidental drug overdose in America. That was listed as the most ever. Many people are familiar with the passing of actors and musicians like Heath Ledger and River Phoenix, but Anderson believes those things are preventable if government officials on all levels do more to educate and protect those who are most vulnerable.
Grant Smith agrees. He’s the Federal Policy Coordinator for Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), a leading New York City based non-profit organization that promotes alternatives to the drug war.
“D.C. residents are extremely susceptible to overdose,” he said. “District residents use drugs at rates far above the national average, and more residents die each year from accidental overdose than from a traffic accident on the streets of D.C.”
People usually avoid talking about addiction and overdose because it’s easier to blame the victim. Most of these deaths through addiction are preventable. Jason Flom, who serves on the Board of Directors for Drug Policy Alliance, believes there are simple steps to repairing the problem.
“The first is expanding access to naloxone — a cheap, non-narcotic, generic drug proven to reverse the effects of opiate overdose and restore breathing. If we can make it easier to get, we’ll prevent thousands of deaths each year,” he said in a press release. “The other is passing “911 Good Samaritan” laws. New York last month became the fourth state to allow people to call 911 when witnessing an overdose without fear of prosecution”
Meghan Ralston, Harm Reduction coordinator for the DPA, said in a letter directed to California Governor Brown, “No other state in the country endures as many annual deaths from accidental drug overdose as California…If recent national trends are any indication, by the year’s end approximately 28,000 people will have died prematurely from a preventable fatal drug overdose. In 16 states, accidental drug overdose is the single leading cause of accidental death, claiming more lives than motor vehicle crashes. The majority of these deaths involve prescription opioid painkillers.
We urgently need your leadership on this issue right here and now. We need to let Californians know that solutions exist. We need to pass AB 472, the “911 Good Samaritan” overdose death prevention bill, and start a statewide conversation about the myriad solutions to the problem.”
She added that she understood that simply passing the measure would not correct the problem, but passing AB 472, added with “…expanded access to affordable, effective drug treatment programs, including medications like methadone, properly educating physicians about responsible prescribing of opioid medications will greatly affect the number of annual preventable deaths.
Washingtonian and returning citizen Albert “Big Al” Wagstaff, says making the 911 Good Samaritan law is a good thing.
“People don’t want to go to prison,” he said, “but I also don’t want to lose a friend to addiction. I can’t stop a person from using, but I’d like to know that if I do witness an overdose, I don’t want to get locked up. I’ve already been down that road before and I didn’t like the scenery.”
Mark Anderson’s story is no different that others in his situation. He had gone through rehab [and relapse] many times over the last eighteen years, but through it all his family has been there for him.
“In the past, I would use and didn’t care about the result. My first two stints of rehab taught me how to be sneaky about hiding my addiction. For about four years I was good at hiding it, but this last time, I went to rehab three years ago, and I haven’t used since.”
He attributes the change to him making the personal decision to stop. Without a desire to change, he feels a person won’t change no matter how great the program is or how much expertise the counselors have.
“Before my last run through rehabilitation, I had three friends pass away in a year and a half – two from addiction overdose and one from complications when she was trying to get clean,” he remarked. “It was then that I decided that I didn’t want to go out like that.”
He added, “When my man Rob died from an overdose about ten years ago, I didn’t feel bad about that. I just felt like he didn’t know what he was doing, or he probably got some stuff from people he didn’t know. I went right on and kept using. I feel terrible about my actions, and his.”
He thinks if the Good Samaritan Law existed then or someone has access to naloxone, his might be alive today and thriving in recovery.
Flom, who is more than a board member of DPA [he also serves as President of Lava Records and former CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records, and Capitol Music Group], said to show his support to Overdose Awareness Day he has contacted various radio stations from around the nation to “play music by bands that have lost a member to an overdose, like Sublime, Blind Melon, Hole, Alice in Chains, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Ramones, and music by legends like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.”
“Government leaders should do more to prevent fatal overdoses by training people how to provide rescue assistance to an overdose victim until paramedics arrive, and removing the threat of arrest for drug possession at the scene of an overdose when witnesses do the right thing and call 911,” Grant Smith added.
To learn more about Overdose Awareness Day check out www.drugpolicy.org/overdose.