#IOAD2023: Communities can end overdose
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) 2023 is dedicated to ‘Recognising those people who go unseen’:
“We honor the people whose lives have been altered by overdose. They are the family and friends grieving the loss of a loved one; workers in healthcare and support services extending strength and compassion; or spontaneous first responders who selflessly assume the role of lifesaver.
We would like to say to these people: #weseeyou. Theirs are the voices we should amplify, and their strength and experience should be held up as examples to us all. Too often, however, they are left to bear the burden of this crisis alone and in silence.”
The IOAD team call these people the Unrecognised First Responders. They need our help to end overdose.
Overdose is a danger to Australian communities that often goes hidden. Many Australians don’t realise just how common it is. The Penington Institute’s Australia’s Annual Overdose Report has repeatedly found that overdose deaths have outstripped road deaths in this country every year since 2014. Overdose has touched many Australians, but most of us don’t feel like we can talk about it.
We need to change that. Our communities are devastated by overdose, but our communities also have the power to prevent overdose. Our collective attention is the most powerful tool we have.
Overdose is a problem we can solve together
Whether you use drugs, know and/or love people who use drugs, or just live in a community where people use drugs (that is — any community in the world), you can do something about overdose.
We encourage you not to think of overdose as a problem for somebody else to solve. History shows us that harm reduction is at its most effective when it is community-driven.
Around the world and in Australia, people have shown that when community members work together on grass-roots efforts to reduce the harms associated with drug use, they are able to improve lives.
A recent example of the power of the community to act to end overdose is the story of the Medically Supervised Injecting Rooms in North Richmond, a neighbourhood that had been losing people to overdose for many years. Residents worked together to advocate for the opening of the Safe Injecting Facility that opened at North Richmond Community Health in 2018. Since opening, the facility has saved at least 63 lives and safely managed more than 6000 overdoses. It is the first facility of its kind in Victoria, and only the second in Australia — the first opened in Kings Cross, Sydney, in 2001 and has successful managed thousands of overdoses without ever losing a client.
Judy Ryan is a North Richmond resident who witnessed the overdose death of a young man outside her home. She turned her grief into community organising in support of the Safe Injecting Facility with the Residents for Victoria Street Drug Solutions (RVSDS) advocacy group. She recently released the book You Talk, We Die: The Battle for Victoria’s First Safe Injecting Facility, recounting how her community was able to rally together to protect people from overdose.
Judy shared her journey from thinking, in frustration: “They should do something” about the problem in North Richmond, before realising that actually, she had to do something.
We often assume we don’t have the skills or expertise required to tackle a complex issue like overdose, but Judy’s account of the campaign makes it clear that all kinds of skills are required to successfully bring about change:
“The celebration to thank the friends of RVSDS who had contributed to the success of our campaign was a special occasion. Each person had made an important contribution: letterboxed flyers, catered for community forums, spoken at a forum, contributed items for our friendraising events, interviewed us on radio programs , sung a song for us, blasted #youtalkwedie across footpaths in the dead of night, donated much-needed funds with no strings attached, organised You Talk, We Die street art, organised the rally, marshalled the rally, kept us safe at the rally, produced amazing one-minute films of the rally, made banners for the rally, provided wine for our friendraisers, provided professional advice, provided resources including booklets and a film, given us important media tips, provided excellent media coverage, written powerful opinion pieces, taken ‘the tour’, maintained our website and social-media platforms, worn our T-shirts with pride, and prepared, introduced, and debated a private members bill. Most importantly, we had shared a simple belief that an MSIC was long overdue and would save lives.
The number of supporters who attended the celebration was beyond our imagination… As I looked across the crowd, I recalled American anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Judy Ryan, You Talk, We Die
Whoever you are, whatever your qualifications, experience or resources, there is something you can do to end overdose.
So, where can you start?
What can I do to end overdose?
- Get involved with International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. Join a local event, talk to your friends and family about overdose prevention, or share resources on your social media.
- Learn how to recognise overdose and administer basic first aid.
- You might consider learning how to use naloxone, an effective and easy-to-use medication that reverses opioid overdoses. Naloxone is available free of charge without a prescription from participating pharmacies across Australia. Find out more about the Take Home Naloxone Program.
- Connect with the harm minimisation service in your state to find out about programs you can get involved in:
- Contact your local council, state and federal representatives to express your support for harm minimisation services including Medically Supervised Injecting Rooms. If you’re not sure exactly what you should ask for, you can check out the Penington Institute’s Policy Recommendations based on their Annual Overdose Report or the International Overdose Awareness Day Advocacy Toolkit.
- Join the campaign to Rethink Addiction – share your story or take action.
We grieve every life lost to overdose
If you’ve lost someone to overdose, we see you. We are so sorry for your loss. If you’d like to talk about it, we’re here — reach out.