International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31, 2022

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2020, an estimated 92,000 individuals in the United States died from a drug-involved overdose. This alarming number includes both prescription opioids and illicit drugs.  International Overdose Awareness Day this August 31 aims to bring light to a highly stigmatized and often overlooked matter when it comes to mental health and substance use disorders. 

The overdose awareness movement began in 2001 by Sally J. Finn in Melbourne, Australia. The goal of International Overdose Awareness Day is to educate the public on the effects of a drug overdose, reduce the stigma of guilt and shame behind overdosing, provide resources for mental health and substance use disorder treatment and prevent future drug overdose deaths.  

A person’s hands holding a purple ribbon representing International Overdose Awareness Day on a pink background.

An overdose occurs when the body is exposed to one or more drugs in a dosage or measurement that it cannot physically handle. Overdosing can lead to permanent damage and in serious cases, death. The signs and symptoms of an overdose can vary depending on the drug being used, the individual’s tolerance to the drug, and if other substances were also involved. 

What are the signs of an overdose? 

  • Loss of balance and a limp body
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion or paranoia
  • Slow, weak or no breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Discolored skin specifically on the lips and nails

If someone is showing signs of an overdose, you should:

  • Call 911 emergency services
  • Administer Naloxone if it is available – Naloxone is a medication that can reverse an overdose by blocking the effects of the opioid
  • Try to keep the person awake and breathing
  • If the person is experiencing a seizure, lay them on their side to keep them from choking

The drug overdose statistics paint a concerning picture that many behavioral health care advocates and providers want the general public to understand. From April 2020 to 2021, an estimated 100,000 drug overdoses resulted in death in the United States. The 28.5% increase from the year before mostly consisted of overdoses from synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl) and psychostimulants. But what drugs can you overdose on? When it comes to drug overdosing, the most common substances include alcohol, depressant drugs, stimulant drugs and opioids and prescription drugs.

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Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. This classification of drugs is one of the most commonly used and often abused substances in the United States. Chronic use and excessive consumption of alcohol often lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction. There are an estimated 15 million individuals in the U.S. who experience some form of AUD, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol addiction can be caused by many factors including genetics and biological makeup, psychological health, family, social and cultural factors, and surrounding environmental factors. 

Central nervous system depressants, which are also known as sedative drugs, are substances that slow down brain activity making the user experience a calm and relaxed feeling. Alcohol and other drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium fall under this category of drugs and are highly addictive. The ease and accessibility of these substances are also significant contributing factors as to why many have overdosed on such drugs.

Stimulant drugs are known to rapidly increase activity in the body and brain. Some of the most commonly used substances in this category of drugs include cocaine, meth, Adderall and Kratom. Using these substances produces high energy and an increase in dopamine in the brain giving that “feel good” effect. 

Prescription opioids are probably one of the most dangerous substances to overdose on. Also known as narcotics and painkillers, this classification of drugs can become extremely addictive due to their intense effects. Prescription opioid medications are prescribed by a physician to those who are suffering from acute or chronic pain. According to the CDC, in 2020, 75% of overdose deaths were caused by prescription opioids. The pleasurable sensation can become extremely addictive and can lead to overdose and even death. The most popular drug in this category, which is also most commonly found in drug overdoses, is fentanyl.

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Since the 2017 opioid crisis, the Center for Disease Control has continued to bring light to the importance of overdose prevention through the Mission for Prevention and Substance Use-Related Harms. 

CDC’s Guiding Principles to address overdose crisis:

  • Promote health equity for everyone ensuring equal access and opportunity for overdose prevention
  • Address underlying factors that contribute to substance overdose
  • Partner with other entities to enhance and broaden awareness and prevention of overdose
  • Take evidenced-based actions through the promotion of effective treatment methods to treat and prevent overdose
  • Advance science and continue to promote evidence-proven actions and treatments
  • Drive innovation by promoting, creating and implementing changing strategies to address the overdose crisis

What do you do after an overdose? For many who overdose on addictive mind-altering substances, it may be the final turning point for realizing they need help. Behavioral health providers such as Hotel California by the Sea help those who suffer from alcohol use disorders, substance use disorders, other drug addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders. The substance addiction rehab facility offers a rigorous detox program, residential inpatient program and partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient program (IOP). Inpatient detox services address the physical treatment of the body. Evidence-based behavioral therapies such as CBT, DBT and EMDR, treat underlying psychological issues of the addiction. And our specialized rehab services address the social impact and individualized needs of each client as they heal and transition back into life without the dependency on drugs and alcohol.