Today, August 31, Ellenhorn joins the rest of the world in recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day, a day to reflect on those who have lost their lives to drug overdose, and, at the same time, hold supportive space for their families and loved ones. It is also a day to advocate for uplifting practices and policies that can help prevent overdoses, to reduce the stigma and shame that many substance users face and to promote increased conversation about the negative consequences of drug use.
There are some things you need to know about overdoses in this country. Statistics compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) show that approximately 75 percent of overdoses in the United States are due to opiates. These are not, however, the classic opiates we are dealing with. In fact, heroin-only drug overdoses have been trending downward nationwide since 2016, while synthetic opiates like fentanyl are on the rise, as are overdoses from methamphetamines and cocaine. Stimulant overdoses pale in comparison.
At Ellenhorn, we are proud to feature harm reduction as the focus of addiction treatment. Harm reduction is a philosophy and treatment orientation that focuses on working with people who use substances in order to help provide them with access to services and to mitigate the harmful effects of substance use.
As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states on its website, harm reduction “is critical for keeping people who use drugs alive and as healthy as possible.” Several years ago, we started training our staff to recognize the signs of overdose and help them understand the utilization of naloxone. All Ellenhorn, clients now have access to free fentanyl test strips and kits with a variety of harm-reduction tools, including naloxone.
As practitioners of addiction treatment, our number one goal is to help clients stay alive. When we lose a client to an overdose it affects us tremendously, and in these heartbreaking moments we sometimes question whether what we are doing is truly making a difference. And yet in reality, our effectiveness has less to do with controlling someone’s addiction and more to do with how we treat said someone during their addiction. If people are going to make big changes that include using fewer or no substances at all in order to stay alive, they have to first feel like they are worth it. Treating our clients with respect and letting them know that they have value is what it’s all about. So, on this International Overdose Awareness Day, let’s honor those who are no longer with us by continuing to fight for those who still are and investing in treatment that centers on the compassion and dignity of people.