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International Overdose Awareness Day and National Recovery Month

Posted by on September 4th, 2020 Posted in: Blog, NLM Resources, Public Health
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Structure and community connection are two key elements that most individuals challenged with substance use disorder rely on to maintain their recovery. COVID-19 and the physical distancing and quarantine measures required to prevent the virus from spreading, has contributed to a spike in the number of overdoses from opioids during the last 6 months.

Recent data from around the U.S. confirms that drug overdoses are rising by roughly 18% during the coronavirus pandemic. ODMAP – the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (http://www.odmap.org/), located at the University of Baltimore, is also reporting a significant spike in the number of fatal overdoses.  The ODMAP tool provides near real-time suspected overdose surveillance data across jurisdictions to support public safety and public health efforts to mobilize an immediate response to a sudden increase, or spike in overdose events. ODAP compared reported overdoses, both fatal and nonfatal in the weeks right before quarantine measures were implemented and in the weeks after. More than 60% of counties participating in the information-gathering project reported increases in drug overdoses.

There is also another factor besides COVID-19 contributing to the increase in overdoses, street drugs are even more dangerous now because more dealers are lacing their drugs with the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

“The nation needs to confront the fact that the nation’s drug overdose epidemic is now being driven predominantly by highly potent illicit fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, although mortality involving prescription opioids remains a top concern,” said AMA Opioid Task Force Chair Patrice A. Harris, M.D., M.A., who also is the AMA’s immediate past president. “If it weren’t for naloxone, there likely would be tens of thousands additional deaths. It is past time for policymakers, health insurers, pharmacy chains and pharmacy benefit managers to remove barriers to evidence-based care for patients with pain and those with a substance use disorder.”

August 31st was International Overdose Awareness Day — IOAD. This global campaign began in Melbourne, Australia in 2001. Last year 874 events took place in 39 countries. This year was the 20th anniversary year. IOAD aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. It is also an opportunity to stimulate discussion around evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy. IOAD acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends whose loved ones have died or suffered permanent injury from a drug overdose. It spreads the message about the tragedy of drug overdose death and that drug overdose is preventable.

The goals of International Overdose Awareness Day are:

  • To provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn loved ones in a safe environment, some for the first time without feeling guilt or shame
  • To include the greatest number of people in International Overdose Awareness Day events, and encourage non-denominational involvement
  • To give community members information about the issue of fatal and non-fatal overdose
  • To send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued
  • To stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy
  • To provide basic information on the range of support services that are available
  • To inform people around the world about the risk for overdose

Even though we are in difficult and uncertain times, there is good news. Many people do recover from substance disorder.  The American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force report released in July of 2020 did contain information about positive changes in the prescribing of opioids and in the care those with substance use disorder are receiving.  The following are some key points from the report.

  • Opioid prescribing decreases for a sixth year in a row. Between 2013 and 2019, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by more than 90 million—a 37.1 percent decrease nationally.1
  • Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) registrations and use continue to increase. In 2019, health care professionals nationwide accessed state PDMPs more than 739 million times—a 64.4 percent increase from 2018 and more than an 1,100 percent increase from 2014. More than 1.8 million physicians and other health care professionals are registered to use state PDMPs.2
  • More physicians are certified to treat opioid use disorder. More than 85,000 physicians(as well as a growing number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants) now are certified to treat patients in-office with buprenorphine—an increase of more than 50,000 from 2017.3
  • Access to naloxone increasing. More than 1 million naloxone prescriptionswere dispensed in 2019—nearly double the amount in 2018, and a 649 percent increase from 2017.4

September has been recognized as National Recovery Month every year for past 31 years, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) and other organizations involved with the prevention and treatment of substance use disorder take part in celebrating the gains made by those living in recovery through the national observance of National Recovery Month. Educating Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with mental and substance use disorder to live healthy and rewarding lives.  SAMHSA has a series of webinars related to recovery that you can attend throughout the month of September. For more information see the SAMHSA recovery month webpage https://www.recoverymonth.gov/.

The following websites, articles and resources are related to substance use disorder and may be of interest:

  • NLM’s Environmental Health & Toxicology website – https://www.nlm.nih.gov/enviro/opiate-addiction-and-human-health.html
  • Support After Death by Overdose (SADOD) provides resources, information, and assistance to people throughout Massachusetts who have been affected by the death of someone they care about from a substance-use-related cause. Our focus is on increasing the capacity and effectiveness of peer grief support for bereaved people, frontline care providers, and people in recovery or struggling with drug use. https://sadod.org/
  • Strategies and Resources to Maintain Sobriety During COVID-19, Network of the National Library of Medicine hour-long webinar presented in April 2020.Webinar recording link, presentation materials and resource list https://escholarship.umassmed.edu/ner/83/
  • Donated Mobile RV to Offer Care and Outreach to High-Risk Populations – University of Massachusetts Medical School & Massachusetts Department of Public Health https://bit.ly/3ibUCqg


Image of the author ABOUT Susan Halpin

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NNLM Region 7
University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
(508) 856-5985

This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.

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