By Sheilah M. Powell

Every year on August 31, we honor International Overdose Awareness Day. Officially, IOAD is the world’s annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. 

The campaign raises awareness of overdose, which is one of the world’s worst public health crises and stimulates action and discussion about evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy. It also acknowledges the intense grief felt by families and friends whose loved ones have died or suffered permanent injury or disability from a drug overdose. It is a day of reflection, and remembrance and hopefully can catalyze change. Addiction is treatable and overdose is preventable.  

IOAD aims to spread the message about the tragedy of drug overdose death and that drug overdose is preventable. To do that, the goals of IOAD are:

  • To provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn loved ones in a safe environment, some for the first time without feeling guilt or shame.
  • To include the greatest number of people in International Overdose Awareness Day events, and encourage non-denominational involvement.
  • To give community members information about the issue of fatal and non-fatal overdose.
  • To send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued.
  • To stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.
  • To provide basic information on the range of available supportive services.
  • To prevent and reduce drug-related harm by supporting evidence-based policy and practice.
  • To inform people around the world about the risk of overdose.

I asked Mobilizers how they planned to honor the day, and here is what they said. 

Jessica Geschke, Wisconsin 

I continue to hang Overdose Aid Kit – OAK in our communities across Wisconsin on a weekly basis. With every OAK we place, filled with Narcan and harm reduction supplies, I take a step back, take a deep breath and say the names of those who we’ve lost. We hang those boxes in their memory so that others can find recovery and continue to live. Looking forward to hitting the road next week on the Mobilize Recovery Bus Tour and donating 200 OAKs to place throughout the United States!

Marshall Mercer, Maine 

I show up where ever I can and tell people how much I love them, and not only tell but show them by continuing to keep showing up – no matter the opposition. No matter what hate is spewed, I choose to love everyone, even those deemed unlovable. Throughout this journey and still today I feel empowered to empower others. 

Terrence Washington, Connecticut 

My journey with grief is long and hilly. I take grief like I do my recovery – one moment at a time. I understand everything has an end, but to actually see a person’s end hurts and puts your head in a spin. I understand that we have to live in this moment because this is the only one we have. 

Pattie Vargas, California 

I keep showing up and speaking out. Highlighting the inequities in treatment and laws that do more harm than good. I talk about Joel and celebrate all he was and what the world lost. I speak out for the NET device and share the miracle. And lots of times I cry.

As for me, I am dedicated to ending overdose by flooding the streets of New Jersey with Narcan, naloxone, and other harm-reduction supplies. I partner with the New Jersey Harm Reduction Coalition and prepare about 100 – 200 overdose prevention bags per month and distribute the bags on the street level. In many bathrooms, coffee shops, laundromats, car washes, and restaurants in central and northern New Jersey, there may be an overdose prevention bag by the sink, on the shelf stall, by the extra paper supplies, or placed near the mirror or paper towel dispenser – put there by me or other harm reductionists in the area. Every single one of those kits could save a life. I bring OD prevention kits with me to every in-person training and outreach event I attend – and I attend A LOT. 

Lastly, I don’t hold back on conversations that make others uncomfortable. I used to avoid such conversations entirely to ensure the comfort of the listening party. Not anymore. My favorite part of this interaction is when I finish explaining the ‘controversial’ thing, I maintain eye contact as they stare wide-eyed and speechless. I don’t break eye contact. I continue to explain the data and facts on how this works. And then – most of the time – they agree on at least one thing I said. Works every time.  

So, International Overdose Awareness Day is on Wednesday. What are you doing to end overdose? How will you honor your person/people? How are you doing on your journey of grief? 

Make sure to follow us as we launch the Mobilize Recovery Across America 2022 bus tour on September 5! Immediately following IOAD is Recovery Month, a time to honor and celebrate those in recovery and those service organizations that help people in, seeking or supporting recovery. Mobilize Recovery will be traveling across the country during the entire month in a historic recovery nationwide bus tour – don’t miss out! Be a part of the solution. #MobilizeRecovery