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Today is International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31st, a day where the whole world comes together to make the public aware that opioid overdose is preventable, that we don’t have to bury our family, friends or loved ones due to this epidemic. Overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the state of New York. While the epidemic does not discriminate, my hometown borough of the Bronx has the highest number of overdoses in New York City, and overdoses among Black New Yorkers are increasing the most rapidly, jumping 89% from last year. I am sick and tired of seeing my community torn apart by deaths that are preventable!
Through education, advocacy, and training, people who use drugs can learn to prevent overdoses, respond to overdoses that they witness, and be provided with options for stabilizing and/or abstaining from drugs. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is the medication that can save the lives of those experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone is easy to use, safe, and has been shown to save thousands of lives. When I was a Peer Educator, I worked in the streets of the South Bronx distributing Naloxone and educating people who use drugs on overdose prevention. I encourage everyone who uses drugs, everyone who knows someone who uses drugs, every service provider, and everyone with a prescription for painkillers to use today as an opportunity to get trained on using Naloxone.
Naloxone is just one of the many overdose prevention interventions that are part the theory of treatment called “harm reduction.” The most effective intervention for preventing opioid overdose death is Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) such as Buprenorphine or Methadone. This intervention substitutes illicit and unregulated drugs with a safer alternative. When people are on the appropriate medication, they will no longer feel withdrawal symptoms and will not need to turn to the black market for illegal drugs. Overdoses occur when people relapse or when the drugs are stronger than expected. MAT can begin to bring the number of overdoses down.
On this day, we must remember and mourn those we have lost to overdose, but we must not forget about those who have passed on who were fighting to create a better world where overdoses would be a thing of the past. Today is a day to talk about other alternatives such as Safer Consumption Spaces (where people could use pre-obtained drugs in a safe and private environment), the decriminalization of drugs, anti-stigma campaigns and more.
The war on drugs has been going on for over 40 years and it has done nothing but oppressed low-income people of color. It has demoralized, disenfranchised, and stigmatized our communities systematically to keep them oppressed and unable to rise to their full potential. The system has done its job well by keeping this community uneducated and dependent on a system that does not respect or accept them as fellow citizens.
Today, while we remember those we’ve lost and raise awareness on how to prevent senseless deaths, it is our duty to also speak up and out for the injustices that the war on drugs has caused, and how approaches rooted in humanity, justice, and respect will save thousands of lives.
Hiawatha Collins also contributed.