So often when we think of overdose, look at headlines shouting the ever-growing numbers of overdose deaths, or advocate for greater naloxone access, we think about those whose lives have been lost to fatal overdose. It makes sense — the increasing number of fatal drug poisonings in the U.S. each year are staggering, and those are just the numbers that have been reported or categorized as such.
This International Overdose Awareness Day, we would also like to honor those who have loved and who have been loved by the people we’ve lost to overdose — the countless families (biological and chosen), friends, allies and other loved ones who are also victims of drug policies that fail to protect and support people who use drugs. So many of us have not only experienced profound loss, but we have often been left to grieve in solitude due to the shadow of shame and stigma cast around drug use and overdose.
Further, we must cope with the fact that these losses are preventable. Every overdose death is a policy failure.
Today is also an important day to honor the strength and resilience of the survivors, as we often do not celebrate people who use drugs who have experienced nonfatal overdose. For decades, those most directly impacted have done the heavy lifting to pave the way for community access to naloxone and safer use education, as people who use drugs are the true first responders in our communities. Through naloxone distribution, drug checking services and other harm reduction strategies, people who use drugs have long fought for and pioneered the tools to empower one another to prevent overdose and save each other’s lives. We must continue to learn from and uplift their tireless work to get naloxone into the hands of those who need it most.
This International Overdose Awareness Day, let us also honor those who work day in and day out to end overdose and advocate for policies rooted in the dignity and wellbeing of people who use drugs. Overdose prevention is rooted in the work of harm reduction programs. In particular, syringe service programs nationwide save lives daily by providing a vast spectrum of health and social services to people who use drugs.
At AIDS United, we believe SSPs that support people at risk for HIV/AIDS are also imperative to overdose prevention for both nonfatal and fatal cases. These programs work to address the societal stigma surrounding drug use, including advocating for the end of the war on people who use drugs.
Through policy advocacy, grantmaking and technical assistance, AIDS United firmly supports and works to uplift the lifesaving work of SSPs nationwide. Today is a day to honor the work of syringe service programs, of people who use drugs themselves, as well as their loved ones and allies in preventing fatal and nonfatal overdoses among marginalized people.
We see you. We support you. We love you.