August 31st was overdose awareness day. An event was held on the human rights monument in Ottawa, ON. There were speakers, an exchange of information and a call for action.
here is what I (Alex Rowan) had to say.
Now that we have addressed the issue of overdose in the city of Ottawa, I want to discuss what needs to happen to deal with this devastating trend.
First, I want to tell you about a medication called naloxone. It is an opioid antagonist which blocks the opioid receptors and quickly reverses life threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. It is essentially an opiate antidote. It lasts for about 30-90 minutes, giving the individual time to access emergency medical services. It is a safe medication and will not cause harm if administered to someone who isn’t overdosing. This medication is often used by emergency medical professionals. However, some areas run peer based naloxone distribution and training programs, which have resulted in very positive outcomes and have saved many lives.
These programs train users how to identify and respond to opiate overdose, including when and how to administer naloxone. This gives people the opportunity to literally save the lives of their peers. Unfortunately, we do not have a way for people to access this drug and learn how to use it. That needs to change.
Our next demand is accurate reporting of overdose related deaths. It is incredibly difficult to find information regarding the number and frequency of overdose deaths. Often the cause of death will not be labeled as an overdose, but instead as a “heart attack” or something else. Though that may look better on an obituary, it makes finding information that much more difficult. It is also harder to develop public health education on overdose prevention and to advocate for programs such as naloxone distribution without this information. This also needs to change.
Our final demand is far more broad, but still crucial. We need to view overdose as a human rights issue. That’s why we chose to hold this event here. People who use drugs deserve better than they’re getting. We need better access to appropriate, evidence based treatment. This includes harm reduction programs like methadone maintenance and safe consumption rooms. We need to improve access to health care services, especially for street involved drug users. We need affordable housing. We need to stop criminalizing people for drug use, as it only makes the problem worse.
I know that’s a lot to ask for, and it will take a lot of work to get to that place. However, our demands for naloxone distribution programs and accurate reporting of OD deaths are a great place to start. These suggestions will both reduce the number of overdose related deaths and give us more accurate information so that we can move forward. We will strive for a community that respects everyone’s right to life and the highest level of health possible. We need to realize that people who overdose are worth keeping alive. If you only take one thing from this event, I hope that’s it.