International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign striving to stop drug-related overdose and the stigma that prevents people who need treatment and support from getting help. Taking place annually on 31 August, it is a sombre remembrance of those who have lost their lives to drug overdose, and an acknowledgement of the anguish suffered by the family and friends left behind.
It also intends to reduce the stigma that stops people who need treatment and support from getting the help or treatment they need as they feel judged. People struggling with drug addiction deserve the same support and treatment as those with any other health condition, and they should be able to ask for and access these services without fear of prejudice.
The number of drug-related deaths has risen sharply over the last decade. They reached an all-time high in 2021 when the highest number of deaths since records began in 1993 were recorded. An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report revealed that 4,859 deaths related to drug poisoning were registered in 2021, and of these deaths, 63% were due to drug misuse. Additionally, in 2020, 8,974 people died due to alcohol-specific causes.
However, the £533million commitment in funding over the next three years to community treatment and recovery provides a serious chance to transform the treatment and recovery system. The investment was announced following an independent review conducted by Dame Carol Black, who acknowledged that a lower standard of care for this vulnerable and stigmatised population is unacceptable.
NHS APA Chair Danny Hames said: “Sadly, drug-related deaths have continued to rise at an alarming rate for over nine years now, so this much-needed investment is a step in the right direction and will help more people access the comprehensive treatment they need and improve the lives of thousands of people across the country.
“However, to make the tangible difference so desperately needed while reducing the stigma surrounding this issue is going to take time and a coordinated, concerted effort across the healthcare system.”
"To make the tangible difference so desperately needed while reducing the stigma surrounding this issue is going to take time and a coordinated, concerted effort across the healthcare system.”
What can you do to support International Overdose Awareness Day?
We are all likely to know someone who has felt stigmatised because of their addiction or the addiction of someone close to them. See our #StigmaKills Campaign to find out more and use the hashtags #WeAllKnowSomeone and #SeeThePersonHearTheirStory to encourage conversations about breaking down stigma.
If you’ve lost a friend or relative to an overdose, you can post a tribute on the Overdose Day website.
Read and share our guide on what to do if someone overdoses.
Host an event to raise awareness and/or funds for Overdose Day.
Danny Hames concluded: “International Overdose Awareness Day is a powerful reminder that the tragedy of losing a loved one to an overdose can’t be underestimated; not only for the loss of life but the devastating impact on those left behind and the appalling stigma they face.
“On behalf of NHS APA, we extend our heartfelt condolences to those affected by overdose. Collectively, as a group of providers and representatives of the NHS, we are acting on everything we have learned from Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs and will continue doing all that we can to reduce the number of lives lost to drug overdose, by ensuring they have access to the help they so desperately need.
“We will also continue to work collectively to put an end to the unhelpful notions of stereotypes and discrimination. We understand the prejudice and stigma surrounding this topic make it difficult for families and friends of those who have died to overcome their grief. To address this, we urge everyone to talk openly about overdose and support our daughters, sons, siblings, friends, and neighbours in their struggles.”
"International Overdose Awareness Day is a powerful reminder that the tragedy of losing a loved one to an overdose can’t be underestimated; not only for the loss of life but the devastating impact on those left behind and the appalling stigma they face."
This year’s NHS APA annual conference focuses on putting strategies for tackling stigma into real action, both as individuals and across the sector. It is a free event taking place online on 8 November. Get tickets.