Families ACT! and Moms United will join the Drug Policy Alliance and dozens of organizations in the U.S. and abroad who are participating in International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The day honors and remembers those who have lost their lives to an overdose. The occasion is also an opportunity to educate policymakers and the public about the growing overdose crisis in the United States and abroad – and to offer concrete solutions that save lives.
Accidental drug overdoses have quadrupled since 1990 and now cause the death of more than 26,000 Americans every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose now ranks as a leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., second only to motor-vehicle accidents. Most overdose deaths in the United States are now attributed to prescription opioid painkillers such as oxycodone.
Suzanne Riordan, Executive Director of Families ACT! has experienced this reality up close and personal. Her dually diagnosed son Ian, died in Santa Barbara in November 2005 one month before his 24th birthday of an overdose shortly after he received the results from a “dirty test” and feared that he would be facing prison time for self-medicating with a non-prescription drug.
Families ACT! was formed in the aftermath of Ian’s death and a cluster of such deaths in the winter of 2005-6, to find effective and compassionate alternatives to incarceration and the threat thereof, for people with co-occurring disorders. Their Santa Barbara Task Force on Co-Occurring Disorders met for two years and is preparing it’s final report and recommendations.
“Punishment simply does not work for someone who is already self-punishing”, says Riordan. “It doesn’t work as a deterrent; on the contrary, as witnessed by our sky-high recidivism rate and the number of “non-violent, non-serious” offenders returning to our local communities due to overfilled state prisons.” “We have got to find a better way to address people’s underlying trauma and occurring co-mental health disorders and substance use disorders.”
Families ACT! is stepping up efforts to educate the public about the overdose crisis and to highlight solutions to the problem. Music executives grassroots organizers across the country will urge radio stations on International Overdose Day to play music by artists who died from a drug overdose and to give out the website www.drugpolicy.org/overdose so listeners can learn about ways to reduce overdose deaths.
“Are we ready as a country and as a county”, asks Pablo Romero, of Families ACT!, to change our approach to this sensitive issue that every year costs us so many lives and so much money? Are we ready to treat addiction in an effective way instead of repressing?
“We cannot forget the lives that have been lost, nor can we allow this catastrophe to continue,” said Jason Flom, president of Lava records and former CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records and the Capital Music Group. “We are calling on radio stations everywhere to help spread the word on International Overdose Awareness Day by playing music created by bands that have lost a member to a drug overdose, like Sublime, Blind Melon, Hole, Alice in Chains, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Ramones.”
Families ACT! and Moms United are also asking people to post music and clips on Facebook and Twitter on August 31 of people who died of an overdose and to mention International Overdose Awareness Day. The Twitter community will be using the hashtag #OD11 in their tweets about overdose.
“The bad news is there is a real overdose crisis in the United States,” said Meghan Ralston of the Drug Policy Alliance, “but the good news is there are easy solutions that can save thousands of lives. ‘Good Samaritan’ immunity laws that encourage people who are witnessing an overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest, and expanding access to naloxone – a low-cost, non-narcotic drug that reverses overdoses within minutes – would both save lives immediately.”
Last month, New York State became the fourth state to pass a law that allows people to call 911 when witnessing an overdose without fear of prosecution. This life-saving law should be replicated across the country.
There will be candlelight vigils, forums, performance art and more in the cities around the country, including: Durham, Hartford, Los Angeles, New York and San Diego. You can learn more at www.drugpolicy.org/overdose
“Nothing will ever replace the love of my beautiful son Ian,” said Marilee Murphy, another mother who lost a son named Ian. “Since his death in 2007 the tragedy of death by overdose has continued to rise - thousands of families now share our grief. These deaths are preventable and therein lies a shameful, sinful fact. We need to acknowledge the reality of this public health crisis and work towards the goal of education, harm reduction and realistic approaches to drug policy.”
International Overdose Awareness Day, started by the Salvation Army in Australia in 2001, is an opportunity for people around the world to publicly mourn loved ones without guilt or shame. Many participating countries also use this day to send a strong message to current and former drug users that their lives are valued and that no one should ever die from a preventable fatal drug overdose.