Overdose Awareness Day was opportunity to raise awareness and reduce stigma of drug use; now it’s National Recovery Month

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Each year, the last day of August is observed as International Overdose Awareness Day, to raise awareness of overdoses, acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends who have lost someone to a drug overdose, and to reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths.

Heather Spurlock-Venters, who is a peer-support specialist at Addiction Recovery Care, shared her story of loss in an ARC news release.

Spurlock-Venters, who is in addiction recovery, said she was sharing the story of her brother-in-law Sean Riley’s overdose death to help others battling addiction. The release notes that Riley died a year ago and that Spurlock-Venters was early in her own recovery when she learned of  his overdose death.

“When you’re in active addiction, you think you’re bulletproof and that nothing like that can happen to you. It never crossed my mind that one day one of us wasn’t going to be here,” she said in the release. “He passed away that day not only because he used, but used alone. He didn’t have anyone there to help him or try to bring him back. That’s what we do as people in recovery. We reach back for the ones still suffering because we know what it is like to suffer. I don’t want anyone else to ever go through that – not if I can help it. . . . We don’t have to be a statistic.”

The release adds that with the influx of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, there has never been a more dangerous time to be using illicit substances. It also provides a one-page list of resources to educate people on overdose risk factors, prevention, signs and symptoms of an overdose and how to respond to an overdose.

According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy’s 2022 Overdose Fatality Report, there were 2,135 overdose deaths in Kentucky last year. This was 5% fewer than in 2021. Fentanyl was identified in 1,548 of the deaths, or 72.5%. Nationwide, 109,680 people died as a result of drug overdoses in 2022.

In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center highlighted resources for preventing workplace drug overdoses and supporting recovery from substance-use disorder.

KIPRC reports that Kentucky had its highest number of workplace overdose fatalities in 2021, with 18, which was triple that of 2019. The number dropped to seven in 2022.

“We are glad to see that fatal overdoses decreased both in Kentucky residents in the general community and at work,” Rebecca Honaker, program director for KIPRC’s Kentucky Occupational Safety and Health Surveillance, said in a news release. “Despite the decrease, workplace overdose deaths remain a significant concern.”

To help small businesses address this issue, KIPRC issued a “Hazard Alert” in August about the issue of workplace overdose deaths that included recommendations and resources for employers to help them create a recovery-ready workplace.

And to recognize Drug Overdose Awareness Day, the center released the Kentucky Small Business Toolkit for Hiring Employees in Recovery, which provides additional ways to become a recovery-friendly workplace, including addressing stigma, recruitment, how to use tax credits, bonding programs, community resources, and how to promote a business a recovery-friendly.

Looking forward, September is National Recovery Month.

“Substance use is a dangerous and deadly disease, but treatment is available and recovery is possible,” Matt Brown, president of ARC Healthcare, said in the ARC release. “We remain committed to doing everything we can to reduce overdoses in Kentucky and educate people on the many pathways to recovery.”

People who are struggling with drug abuse or who are concerned about a family member’s substance use can search for treatment providers at www.findhelpnowky.org. And for those seeking recovery housing, visit findrecoveryhousingnowky.org. KIPRC also offers a Drug Overdose Prevention Tackle Box, A Guide for Communities.

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