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August 20, 2018
An annual, global event held on 31 August, International Overdose Awareness Day is about raising awareness on overdose – what it is, the signs of an overdose, and how to respond.
It’s also about educating people in order to reduce the stigma surrounding drug-related deaths.
And it’s about acknowledging the grief of the families and friends who have lost a loved one to an overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day spreads a critical message – deaths from overdose are preventable.
All drugs, including alcohol and pharmaceutical medications, can cause an overdose. An overdose happens when a person has more of a drug, or a combination of drugs, than their body can manage.
And the risk of having an overdose increases when different drugs are taken together.
In Australia, 1, 808 people died from an overdose in 2016. This is the highest number of overdose deaths recorded since the late 1990’s.1
Since then, the pattern of overdose deaths has changed significantly. Contrary to common perceptions that illegal drugs like heroin are the main cause of overdose, rates of pharmaceutical drug overdoses are actually higher.
Pharmaceutical medications are responsible for 69% of accidental overdose deaths –greater than all illegal drugs combined.2
In 2016, the person most most likely to overdose was a middle-age man living outside of a capital city, by misusing prescription drugs such as oxycodone or benzodiazepines, and engaging in poly-drug use (using multiple drugs, including alcohol).
These deaths are most likely to be accidental.3 And they are preventable.
The signs and symptoms of an overdose vary between drugs and between people. But in general, depressant drug and stimulant drug overdoses will have different symptoms.
A stimulant drug overdose like methamphetamine or amphetamine will more likely result in symptoms similar to a heart attack, such as chest pain, and spasms or seizures.
Over the past two decades the number of people dying from drug overdose has increased alarmingly. Responding accordingly to this public health crisis is essential to save lives and reduce trauma.
This is why initiatives like the medically supervised injecting centre (MSIC) in Richmond , and maintaining the MSIC in Sydney, are so critical. So is increasing access to naloxone and providing training in how to use it.
And we need to continue having conversations about overdose – especially raising awareness about the harms arising from pharmaceutical drugs and the deaths resulting from them.
If someone looks like they are in trouble and can’t be woken after drinking alcohol or using drugs, it’s very important that they get medical help quickly. A quick response can save their life.
Call an ambulance by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers are not required to involve the police unless they feel in danger.
It’s important to note that ambulance officers are not required to involve the police.