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International Overdose Awareness day
Posted July 29, 2019

The use of drugs spans the length and breadth of human history. Frequently, drug use—including alcohol, legal and illegal opiates—is a form of self-medication for trauma. Users may take substances to mask emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual pain and distress, making them vulnerable to overdose.

Here in New Zealand, someone dies of an overdose every week, according to the Drug Foundation.

In 2001, Sally Finn was managing a needle and syringe programme for The Salvation Army in St Kilda, Australia, when the idea for Overdose Awareness Day was born. Sally’s vision was simply to hold a local event so friends and family could come together, remember, and support one another.

Since those humble beginnings, the idea has become a global event held annually on 31 August and recognised in over 40 countries, including New Zealand. The aim is to raise awareness of overdoses—from both legal and illicit drug use—reduce the stigma of drug-related death, and acknowledge the grief of family and friends. Supporters wear purple or silver ribbons, badges and t-shirts.

‘In a small country like ours we all know someone for whom drug use or drug addiction is a daily reality. We mustn’t be foolish enough to think overdose would never happen to anyone we know, because it does,’ says Lieutenant-Colonel Lynette Hutson, National Director for Addictions, Supportive Accommodation and Reintegration Services.

‘We have a perception that overdose only happens to hard users or down-and-outers, but it can happen to anyone. Often overdose is accidental, with prescription drugs and a few drinks being a fatal combination. It can also happen when people get clean for a while and then have a relapse. What would’ve once been a normal intake of drugs for the body can be toxic to a body that has been clean for a period,’ Lynnette explains.

Synthetic cannabinoid use is still where the greatest danger lies. More than 50 Kiwi users have died since mid-2017.

‘People—especially young people—make the error of assuming synthetics are cannabis, but they’re not. They’re a plant-based mix that is sprayed with chemical cannabinoids which can be adulterated with other substances like baking soda, talcum powder and even pesticides. These are dangerous because they are not a pure product, so what starts out as a bit of experimentation can become fatal,’ warns Lynnette.

Last year, Epsom Lodge held an intimate Overdose Awareness Day memorial service for residents and staff. ‘We lit candles in memory of loved ones, and there were tears. There’s a heightened awareness among our residents of death, because when you’re living with addiction, or when you’re homeless, death is very real. Some have seen mates die on the streets. Many are frightened of death, but we can offer the hope of Christ,’ says Envoy Jillian Smith, who led the service.

Lynnette would love to see more centres provide an opportunity for remembrance and education about the realities and complexities of overdose on 31 August this year.

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By Jules Badger (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 27 July 2019 p3. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.