Each year, thousands of individuals pass from drug and alcohol overdoses. The number of drug overdose deaths in the United States rose from 38,329 in 2010 to a peak of over 70,000 in 2017. Fortunately, the number of deaths decreased to 67,367 in 2018, but that’s still almost 200 people a day.
The global situation isn’t good either. In 2017, an estimated 585,000 people lost their lives to drug use. That’s more than 1,600 families that grieve the lost of a loved one each day.
The addiction epidemic in the U.S.—and around the world—knows no bounds. It affects all walks of life, all communities, and all of our hearts. We’ve lost countless sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends, loved ones, neighbors. And the list goes on. Many of the people you come into contact with on a daily basis have been affected by alcohol and drug addiction in some way shape or form. Almost everyone knows someone personally or knows of someone who has passed due to drug overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on August 31st each year to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It’s a time to acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have passed as a result of drug overdose.
An alcohol or drug overdose occurs when you take in more alcohol or drugs—or a combination of alcohol and drugs—than your body can physically handle. Individuals can overdose on many things, including, but not limited to:
Perhaps the most fatal, opioid overdoses happen when there are so many opioids or a combination of opioids and other drugs in the body that the individual is unresponsive to stimulation and/or breathing is inadequate. Heroin; prescription opioids (Oxycontin, fentanyl, morphine, Vicodin, Percocet, etc.); and other downers, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, etc.) are an especially dangerous combination given they all affect the body’s central nervous system, which slows down:
Stimulants, like cocaine, ecstasy, and speed, can also cause overdoses. During a stimulant overdose, important systems in the body increase: heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. In turn, breathing speeds up, leading to seizure, stroke, heart attack, or death.
A large number of overdoses occur because individuals mix heroin, prescription opioids, and/or other alcohol with benzodiazepines. Another common drug combination that increases the risk of overdose is called a “speedball:” a mixture of heroin and cocaine.
Tolerance, which is the body’s ability to process certain amounts of a drug, also plays a large role in overdose. Tolerance develops over time; the longer someone uses a drug, the more they’ll need to feel the same effects. It’s important to note that tolerance decreases rapidly when someone takes a break from using a drug; for example, when they enter drug treatment. Those who’ve had a period of sobriety and return to their previous amount of drug use are at a higher risk of overdose.
Overdose kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every single year, and it affects millions of people who mourn for the loss of their loved ones. On August 31st, take some time to learn more about the signs of drug overdose, so you can recognize it if you see it, and do something to help save a life.
For more information on alcohol and drug overdose or International Overdose Awareness Day, click here.