The agency also aims to use the occasion to educate policymakers and the public about the growing overdose crisis and offer concrete solutions to save lives.
Nationally, drug overdose ranks as a leading cause of preventable death, second only to motor-vehicle accidents, according to the Center for Disease Control. Accidental drug overdoses—often involving opiate painkillers such as oxycodone—have quadrupled since 1990 and now cause the death of more than 26,000 Americans every year.
A surge in heroin use in the Chicago area, particularly among youth, also underscores the need for overdose prevention. The Chicago metropolitan area ranks among the worst nationally for heroin-related problems, including first in the number of heroin-related emergency room admissions, according to a recent Roosevelt University study.
“I would give anything to have just one more day with my son—to help him overcome his drug abuse problem,” said John Roberts of southwest suburban Homer Glen, a retired police officer. “I do not think Billy was addicted, but he clearly had a growing drug problem. Unfortunately, Billy used the highly potent heroin that is now finding its way into so many communities and he died from an overdose.”
Researchers Stephanie Schmitz and Kathleen Kane-Willis noted dramatic increases in heroin overdoses in the collar counties. In McHenry County, for example, deaths increased by 150 percent in just three years. In just two years, deaths in Will County have doubled.
Yet, despite increasing signs of heroin use in Cook County, heroin-related deaths there have decreased by 16 percent in the past ten years—a trend the researchers attribute to overdose prevention programs.
The Chicago Recovery Alliance, whose services include needle exchange, has been distributing naloxone—an overdose reversal drug—and providing training to its participants in the Chicago area since 2001. The organization estimates 2,000 lives have been saved as a result of this intervention.
As part of its harm reduction services, CarePoint also distributes naloxone and instructs drug users and others how to administer the drug in an emergency.
“We encourage parents who know their children are using opiates to get naloxone and overdose prevention training,” says Stephen M. Radler, CADC, executive director at CarePoint. “We know many parents are terrified of the prospect of finding their children overdosing and not knowing what to do.”
Along with the Drug Policy Alliance and other overdose prevention advocates, CarePoint supports two concrete actions to help prevent overdose deaths:
CarePoint urges the passing of “Good Samaritan 911” immunity legislation, which encourages people witnessing an overdose to call 911 without fear of arrest. New Mexico and Washington have passed this legislation in recent years.
CarePoint also recommends expanding the availability of the overdose reversal drug naloxone which restores normal breathing in two to three minutes if administered during an opiate overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day was founded by the Salvation Army in Australia in 2001 with these objectives in mind:
Allow survivors to publicly mourn for loved ones, some for the first time, without feeling guilt or shame.
Give community members information about the issue of overdose.
Send a strong message to current and former drug users that their lives are valued.
Stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.
Provide basic information on the range of support services that exist in the local community.
Encourage people who use drugs to learn how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose.
# # #
For over a decade, CarePoint has delivered social services to marginalized and underprivileged populations in the Chicago area disproportionately burdened by HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and STDs, substance abuse, incarceration, homelessness and youth at risk. Among its programs, CarePoint offers free HIV tests at its Evanston, IL, office weekdays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call (847) 425-3606 or visit www.carepointoutreach.org for more information.