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Reducing Stigma on International Overdose Awareness Day

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day – a global event dedicated to increasing education on the realities of drug overdoses and reducing the stigma of substance use disorder. It is also the kick-off to National Recovery Month, which takes place every year in September. 

There were nearly 92,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2020. And this number, a 26% increase from 2019, is largely attributable to growing rates of opioid use, which alone accounted for more than 75% of the deaths. 

In honor of International Overdose Awareness Day, we’re taking a look at some of the other notable statistics around overdose rates and how stigma can stand in the way of people getting help. We’ll also be sharing information on harm reduction strategies and how they can support individuals in their recovery. 

Overdose Statistics

The number of people dying from drug overdoses in the U.S. has increased exponentially since 1999. This is mostly due to growing use of synthetic opioids, and fentanyl in particular. In fact, there was a six-fold increase in drug overdoses related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids between 2015 and 2020. 


Opioid Stigma & How It Hinders Progress

The opioid overdose crisis is a public health emergency, and one that can only be adequately addressed by reducing stigma around use of these dangerous drugs. 

Research shows multiple types of stigma that lead to discriminatory behavior against opioid users and, in many cases, prevent them from getting help. This includes structural stigmas as well as internalized stigmas, both of which have a negative effect on health outcomes. If we want to enact the powerful societal and policy-related change required to combat opioid overdose deaths, we’ll need to start by reducing the stigma around opioid dependency – and that’s where International Overdose Awareness Day and similar events can be incredibly helpful. 

Overdose Prevention Strategies: Harm Reduction

Substance use disorder can happen to anyone, regardless of gender, age, or socio-economic background. But just as the experience of dependency can differ from person to person, so can the best approach toward recovery. 

One strategy that we know to be particularly helpful however is harm reduction, particularly when it comes to those who are unable to achieve full sobriety through traditional substance use treatment models.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a treatment model that aims to reduce the risk of negative consequences from substance use, including overdose. Common harm reduction tactics used today include Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), safe needle programs, and safe consumption spaces like overdose prevention sites. 

These tactics serve to remove harmful variables from the equation, in turn making it less likely that an individual will face an irreversibly harmful outcome before they are ready to seek more comprehensive care.

Take Action

The more we collectively understand about substance use and overdoses, the fewer obstacles we place in the way of recovery. How can you help?

  • Educate yourself on overdose statistics and share that information with others. 
  • Attend an International Overdose Awareness Day event
  • Obtain Narcan and learn how to use it. 

And if you or a loved one are in need of substance use treatment, we invite you to learn more about Retreat Behavioral Health and our inpatient and outpatient services. You can also contact us today for additional information on taking that first step toward recovery.