International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is a global event held on August 31st each year and aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of a drug overdose. Overdose Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable. Wear Silver (or purple) to show your support. – www.overdoseday.com
If you’re like me and have lost loved ones due to substance abuse overdose, then I can bet you resonate with the title of this article.
I say this with confidence because it’s the truth; an overdose death doesn’t just stop the addict’s heart, it stops the hearts of those that love them, too. I know firsthand because I have lost over 20 friends in the last decade as a direct result of an overdose. I ensure that their passing isn’t in vain by using my voice for them, especially on days like today, International Overdose Awareness Day.
For those of you that do not know me or my story, I’m a recovering addict and my drug of choice for many years was opiates. I don’t like to glorify my active addiction so I won’t go into great detail about that time in my life, but what I will say is that I should have overdosed myself, numerous times. It never occurred to me back then, but I’m now certain that there was some great force with me that never allowed it to happen. I know deep down in my heart the reason I’m still here is that I have an obligation to fulfill for my fallen friends.
If our stories can prevent at least one overdose, or worse, overdose death, then I will be living out my purpose in this world.
Addiction, specifically heroin addiction, has been a rampant epidemic for several years now. I could spend my time here going over statistics and sound like every other article out there on the topic of addiction, but that’s not me. I’d rather talk about the beautiful people that lost their lives before getting the opportunity to recover and the unique pain their families endure.
For every overdose death you hear about on the news, and for every ill word that is said about addicts, there is a family grieving the loss of someone that passed before it was their time. They do not need to hear your harsh opinions and judgments. I ask that if you do not understand, then seek to extend compassion. Being an addict doesn’t necessarily mean living on the streets or lying and stealing to get by. We come from a variety of backgrounds and are of different ages. We may even exist in your family too.
The families grieving the loss of a loved one to an overdose are dealing with a unique type of grief.
It is called stigmatized grief, and this occurs when the death has an associated stigma surrounding it (overdose, suicide, AIDS/HIV related deaths). When someone passes away from substance abuse and overdose, there is a lack of compassion from society. This, in turn, makes the family feel as though they are not allowed to openly talk about the death due to stigma and judgment.
Shouldn’t everyone be granted the opportunity to grieve at their own pace and in their own way? Fear of judgment may prevent the family from openly sharing their feelings or even prevent them from seeking help, so I ask that you, please be mindful of your words. No matter how someone passes away or whether or not you agree with the circumstances, it’s not up to us to talk about it in a negative light. This only keeps everyone stuck in the problem versus living in the solution.
For the other part of society that is already centered in compassion and living in the solution, there are several ways to get involved. From being a recovery advocate to ending the stigma surrounding addiction, we can work together to help lower the number of overdose deaths. The most important aspect is to not stay silent. The more we openly talk about these issues, the more others will feel comfortable to do so as well. This is especially important for the loved ones of those who have overdosed. Please refer to the resources list at the bottom of this article for a list of ways you can get involved.
Remember, one overdose stops more than one heart so please be kind.
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