International Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31
Countless stories remind us that people across the country struggle with addiction to illicit substances and opioid-based pain medications. In 2017, about 144 Pierce County lives ended prematurely from opioid-related poisoning, what we commonly call an overdose. Drug poisoning is now the leading cause of death for people under 50 years old.
But this crisis is solvable, and hope is growing. Hope grows when we begin to look differently at drug-related deaths and substance use disorder. Hope grows when we stop stigmatizing people with substance use disorder and the people who love them.
Substance use disorder is a medical condition, not a moral malady.
Anyone can develop physical and psychological dependence on drugs and alcohol. Opioid use disorder is a recognized chronic medical condition. Professionals treat it with the same level of care and respect as diabetes or heart disease. Loved ones can and do recover with the right treatment with lasting solutions, saved lives, and sustained recovery.
Processing death or injury from substance use is a special kind of grief. Most feel shame and guilt. Many, who fear judgment, compartmentalize their grief. No community is immune to drug poisoning. In every place we go, drug poisoning affects people we meet and work and interact with. Activities or conversations:
- Keep loved one’s memories alive.
- Lessen isolation.
- Create hope.
Connecting with legislators and other policy makers makes sure our voice is at the table of decision-making. Our resources on substance use disorders build community hope and community voice. Attendance at conferences and community events build awareness and solidarity.
Wearing purple or silver ribbon symbolizes awareness of drug poisoning and its effects. It also acknowledges the loss of someone cherished and demonstrates support to those who are grieving. Most importantly, it sends a message: Every life is valuable.
Save your life or the life of a loved one.
Drug poisoning can happen instantly and before help can arrive. We should all learn to recognize the signs of drug poisoning and learn how to safely reverse it. Some signs of an opioid poisoning include:
- Unconsciousness or not being able to wake up.
- Slow, shallow breathing.
- Difficulty breathing such as choking sounds or a gurgling or snoring noise from someone you can’t wake up.
- Fingernails or lips turn blue or purple.
Naloxone is a safe medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent death from opioid poisoning. It blocks opioid receptor sites in the brain and reverses the toxic effects of the poisoning. You can get it nearly anywhere. To find a list of local pharmacies and clinics that offer naloxone, go to www.tpchd.org/opioidtreatment and look in the resources section. When you’re at the pharmacy, simply say, “I’m at risk of or witnessing an opioid poisoning. I would like naloxone.” Access to this potentially life-saving drug is possible through a statewide standing order to make naloxone available to anyone who needs it—or wants to have it available—without a prescription.
Are you or someone you know ready to begin the journey to recovery? Our Treatment Services Program can help you with medication assisted treatment. Through our partnership with the Tacoma Needle Exchange (TNE), you can also begin your recovery today with our Meds First Program. To get started, visit the TNE van:
- In our Pacific Avenue parking lot.
- 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
- Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
You can be part of the solution.
Healthcare professionals can learn about opioid use disorder issues and resources for their patients. Pierce County stakeholders work together with the Health Department to prevent harms from substance use disorder through policy change and resource-sharing. Learn more about the work of the Tacoma-Pierce County Opioid Task Force to respond to the epidemic locally. Help is also available for you or your loved one at www.stopoverdose.org. Learn more about International Overdose Awareness Day.
We invite your comments but will delete those with profanity, personal attacks, derogatory statements, ads or promotional material. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department does not provide personal medical advice; please contact your health care provider.