What Is International Overdose Awareness Day 2021?


At this point in time, almost everyone knows the opioid epidemic exists. But many people still don’t fully grasp how vast and devastating it truly is. According to the World Health Organization, about 500,000 people from around the world die each year as a result of drug use. More than 70% of those deaths have to do with opioid use.

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Though a worldwide epidemic, more than 760,000 Americans have died as a result of drug overdoses since 1999.

You may find it easy to feel hopeless and overwhelmed with numbers this high. However, individuals can do to help mitigate the effects of this plague by embracing International Overdose Awareness Day.   

What Is International Overdose Awareness Day?

People can commemorate the lives lost to an overdose during International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD). Individuals can show support to friends and family members impacted by the drug abuse or the overdose of a loved one.

An overdose means someone has become overwhelmed by too much of a particular drug or a combination of drugs. People can overdose on all drugs, including prescription medications. Mixing one or more types of drugs proves quite dangerous, but a single drug taken in excess can also become fatal. 

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Where Does International Overdose Awareness Day Come From?

IOAD actually originated in Australia. It was first established in 2001 by Australian citizens Sally J. Finn and Peter Streker. In 2012, an Australian nonprofit group called the Penington Institute took over planning IOAD events. Since then, the movement has gained popularity and the day gets recognized across the world. 

When Is International Overdose Awareness Day?

IOAD takes place on August 31 each year. The timing coincides with National Recovery Month in September in the U.S.

What Are the Colors or Symbols of International Overdose Awareness Day? 

The colors purple and silver both hold significance on IOAD. Purple represents the color of awareness for opioid addiction. Silver represents a drug overdose. People may wear ribbons in one or both colors on that day. They might also don a silver badge, purple lanyard, or purple wristband from the Penington Institute’s official IOAD shop.

People around the world have adopted further awareness-raising efforts as well. A campaign in the United States asked decision-makers throughout the country to lower flags to half-mast each August 31. International campaigns urge leaders to illuminate buildings with purple lights on this date. 

What Can You Do to Acknowledge International Overdose Awareness Day?

Even if you’ve never struggled with addiction, you may know someone who has. Some people take part in observing IOAD because they’ve had a loved one die as a result of drug use. Others may become more involved because they fear the thought of losing a friend to overdose. No matter your reasons, you can acknowledge International Overdose Awareness Day in many ways.    

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Hold an informational meeting

As we mentioned earlier, IOAD serves multiple purposes. This day commemorates the lives lost to drug overdose and also gives us a special day to support everyone who has been touched by that kind of loss. It can also raise awareness of what a drug overdose looks like.

Knowing the signs of overdose can help people become aware of when someone needs help.

Join (or start!) a naloxone [rogram

The opioid epidemic has overwhelmed paramedics and other first responders. Luckily, many other organizations and individuals have stepped up to fill the void. A medication called naloxone serves as an opioid antagonist. This means it can temporarily block the effects of opioids like oxycodone and heroin. You may have heard it called by the brand name Narcan.

In many states, nonmedical professionals have become trained in administering naloxone. Some people who learn this skill work in environments where they may regularly encounter drug users, through homeless shelters or church outreach programs. Others may want to prepare themselves in case a loved one overdoses.

Community-based naloxone programs have been praised by EMTs and other first responders because they see better outcomes when treating overdosed patients. Many areas also have Good Samaritan policies in place to protect civilians who administer naloxone. Your local training program should advise you on your rights and responsibilities.

Don’t have a local naloxone program? Contact your local public health department and see what it would take to get one established in your area.      

Sponsor a rehab scholarship

A wide variety of alcohol and drug treatment rehabilitation centers exist. However, these treatment programs aren’t necessarily accessible to those who need them most. Affordable government-subsidized treatment programs can feel difficult to get into because of high demand. This especially holds true for inpatient programs, which are widely classified as highly effective. 

Private rehab facilities often have a much shorter waiting list, but their cost can prove problematic. A 30-day inpatient rehab program can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 which simply isn’t feasible for most people.

If you have the means, you could consider financing a rehab scholarship. A handful of nonprofit foundations like 10,000 Beds pair patients with facilities. Work with this organization or another reputable nonprofit to find out where your donation can do the most good. 

Put together an "in memoriam" playlist

IOAD doesn't just raise awareness; families and friends also mourn. If you lost a loved one to a drug overdose, you may not feel up to observing the day with other people. Instead, you may choose to pay tribute in a simpler and more solitary way.

One great way to honor a friend who died involves making a playlist. You can include certain songs or artists your friend or loved one enjoyed. You can also include songs about losing a friend too soon.   

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Host an open mic event

An open mic night offers a great way to raise both funds and awareness on IOAD. Invite various community members at different stages of the recovery process to speak about their journeys. You can also invite people to share their own experiences of loving someone with an addiction. This provides balanced education from multiple perspectives. You could also leverage it into a fundraiser for a local treatment center. 

Plant a memorial tree

When someone you care about dies, that person's absence can leave a void in your life. Creating a memorial spot where you can visit and reminisce about that person can involve an important part of the mourning process. Planting a memorial tree in remembrance of a loved one can be cathartic for you as you mourn.

Give a Gift to a Loved One Touched By Overdose-Related Loss

If your friend has lost a friend or family member to addiction, this day can feel especially difficult. Making or buying gifts for a grieving friend can help them. You may want to do a creative, over-the-top gift, like a customized gift basket. You could also give a greeting card and a book about loss. Remind your loved one that he or she isn't alone in his or her grief

Give Yourself Space to Grieve Different Kinds of Loss

With drug abuse and alcoholism on the rise, you may know someone who battles addiction. Even if your loved one hasn't died, it can feel like the person you love has been replaced by a stranger. Many relationships crumble and fall apart when one person succumbs to a lifestyle of addiction. It’s okay to feel a sense of ambiguous loss as you grieve for a living but unrecognizable person.   

IOAD Takes Place on August 31 Each Year

More than any other disease, addiction treatment relies as much on the people outside of the medical profession as it does on doctors. Understanding the mechanisms of addiction can help people make better choices.

Participating in International Overdose Awareness Day (or even overdose awareness month) means you can share some knowledge that might just save a life someday. 

  1. “International Overdose Awareness Day.” Stchristophersinn-graymoor.org, St. Christopher’s Inn at Graymoor, 3 August 2020, stchristophersinn-graymoor.org/international-overdose-awareness-day
  2. “Opioid Overdose.” Who.int, World Health Organization, 28 August 2020, who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/opioid-overdose
  3. “Scholarships for Drug and Alcohol Rehab.” Help.org, Help.org, 2021, help.org/scholarships-for-drug-and-alcohol-rehab

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