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Overdose Awareness DaySFlbholds purpose and promise

Friday, August 31, 2018

Given the sky-high volume of news reports, social media posts and other attention-grabbing publicity on the opiate epidemic ravaging our region, our nation and our world, today’s observance of International Overdose Awareness Day may strike many as inherently unnecessary and patently redundant.

Clearly, however, it is neither. As long as the epidemic continues to gnaw away at the lives and livelihoods of far too many people in far too many communities, there can never be enough action-oriented awareness toward lessening its ferocious grip.

For its part, the Mahoning Valley today joins about 500 other communities across the globe in recognizing IOAD. Victims of overdoses, their friends and family members as well as first responders, healthcare workers and the general public are encouraged to take part in Ohio Change Addiction Now’s International Overdose Awareness Day events titled “Light Up the Night” today. Speeches, naloxone demonstrations and more all will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown at 1105 Elm St. near Wick Park.

We urge community members to turn out en masse for the educational programs that begin at 5:30 p.m. and conclude with a candlelight vigil at 9 p.m. in memory of the 100 individuals in Mahoning County who lost their lives to addiction last year. We also urge unity and support for the noble causes and missions behind today’s international observance.

BACKGROUND ON IOAD

IOAD began 17 years ago as a small awareness-raising event organized by The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia. Since then, it has mushroomed into nearly every country in the world with more than 300 observances in the United States alone.

Indeed, its growth mirrors that of the epidemic itself, and the campaign’s principal messages have become all the more compelling as drug-overdose deaths have overtaken all other forms of accidental deaths as the No. 1 killer in the U.S. and many other nations of the world.

The theme behind this year’s events is an apt one: “Time to Remember, Time to Act.” It underscores the two-pronged mission of the observance. At once, participants look back to remember and honor the lives of our neighbors, our co-workers, our acquaintances, our friends and our family members who have been sickened by or succumbed to the ravenous epidemic.

At the same time, participants look ahead to find tangible means to lessen the constantly increasing toll the scourge has wrought. Nationwide, drug overdoses killed 72,000 Americans last year. In Mahoning and Trumbull counties alone, accidental overdoses claimed the lives of 250 individuals in 2017.

The specific purposes of today’s observances are multifold. All serve to raise public consciousness of the epidemic, and many offer guideposts for participants to make a difference in lessening the epidemic’s primary side effects of pain and anguish.

According to the IOAD central office in Australia, this year’s observance is geared to:

Provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn for loved ones, some for the first time, without feeling guilt or shame.

Give members of local communities up-to-date information about fatal and nonfatal overdoses.

Send a strong message to people who currently or have used drugs in the past that they are valued and respected as a means to shatter senseless myths that equate drug users with morally reprehensible scoundrels.

Stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and how individuals can get involved in shaping or lobbying for public policy covering all dimensions of the epidemic.

Provide information on the range of support services available in the local community.

And as the title of this year’s observance suggests, today’s observance offers a starting point for many to take action. Supporters can learn the proper techniques for administering naloxone, the opiate antitode. They can learn of volunteer opportunities to assist agencies that fight on the front lines of the epidemic. Or they can, among other actions, work to promote greater understanding, compassion and awareness of the epidemic and its victims among their own set of neighbors and friends.