We take this moment on International Overdose Awareness Day to remember — as we often do — the many beloved friends and family we have lost to an overdose.
We celebrate the lives they lived, and we grieve the lives that would have been — theirs and ours — if not for their overdose. We also express deep gratitude for our loved ones who have survived overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day isn’t only a time for reflection, it’s also a time for action.
Each of us should take time today to reflect on the broken systems and gaps in health care that have led to the obscene and unacceptable level of overdose death that we see in the United States every year. We should also use this time to plan for how we’ll change these systems.
For some, that might mean volunteering or donating to a local syringe service program. For others it might mean learning how to administer Narcan and carrying it with you at all times. Still others might take the time to send a handwritten letter to their members of Congress.
An overdose death is not a failure of the individual who died, but of the society that created the conditions under which such an overdose would be fatal. With all the tools we have at our disposal to reverse overdose, ensure safer drug use and provide substance use disorder treatment for those who want it, fatal overdose is entirely preventable.
And yet, more than 105,000 Americans died of overdose in 2022, a number that is over 300% higher than it was just 10 years earlier.
This massive spike is not linked to any increase in drug use. Instead, because of decades of unscientific, harmful and punitive drug policies, the drug supply has changed. The War on Drugs has incentivized the manufacture and sale of increasingly potent and unpredictable drugs, and hundreds of thousands of people are dead because of it.
This is the world we have created. And if we have any hope of ending the overdose epidemic — and indeed, the HIV and hepatitis epidemics as well — we must work to dismantle it.