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In 2017, 70,237 drug-related overdose deaths occurred in the United States.

70,237 people – parents, children, neighbors, and friends.

Among that massive number is my friend, Chris. Chris could make you laugh until your belly hurt. He had a mischievous grin that would burst into the biggest, brightest smile that lit up the entire room. This boisterous, shining person was quietly dealing with substance use disorder, depression, and anxiety. He passed away at just 28 years old.

International Overdose Awareness Day 2019 has come and gone, but it carries on in the hearts and minds of our community members every single day. Overdoses happen daily, but this particular day invites a space to grieve, remember, and talk openly about drug overdoses and stigma.

Stigma towards people who use substances and people with substance use disorders influence decision-making at all levels: from policy (e.g., allocation of funding and resources), to health care (e.g., willingness of providers to screen for and treat substance use disorders), to individual decision-making (e.g., willingness of an individual to seek treatment and support).

Stigma is really important for us to discuss, explore, and address. Of the 23 million Americans who meet criteria for substance use disorder each year, only 10% access treatment. Stigma remains a significant barrier to accessing and seeking help and contributes to isolation, shaming, discouragement, misinformation, and inequitable access and receipt of care.

We all have a role to play in reducing stigma, promoting the health of our community members, preventing overdose deaths, and offering recovery options for our neighbors and loved ones. Our actions and words can inform, encourage, support, and unify in our collective response to the opioid epidemic.

As we reflect on Overdose Awareness Day and move through National Recovery Month, we encourage you to:

  • Share information about the WA Recovery Help Line far and wide! The Recovery Help Line offers the most up-to-date information regarding treatment options across the state. Their newly established Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) locator can link you up with local clinics and programs that use evidence-based treatments to treat opioid use disorder.
  • Practice person-first language and be mindful of the language we use when discussing substance use. To learn more about language and stigma, join us on November 18 for an online learning opportunity headed by the University of Washington’s AIMS Center.
  • Learn how to administer Naloxone for opioid overdose. Naloxone (also known as Narcan®) is a medication that functions as an “opioid agonist” and counters the effects of an opioid overdose. Any person or organization in WA state can now obtain Naloxone as a result of a new standing order.
  • Stigma has been a contributing barrier to accessioning Hepatitis C screening and treatment. Join us on October 8 (noon – 1:00pm) for a webinar: A Path Forward: Evaluating and Treating Hepatitis C. Our lead presenter, Dr. Julio Gutierrez, is the Medical Director of the Liver Transplantation Department at St. Vincent’s Multi-Organ Transplant Center and an expert in the field.

Please contact Sara Rainer with questions or concerns: