International Overdose Awareness Day

The annual International Overdose Awareness Day is August 31, 2022. International Overdose Awareness Day was founded in 2001 by Sally J. Finn at the Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia. Since 2012, the event has been coordinated by Penington Institute, a nonprofit public health organization.

International Overdose Awareness Day has become part of the world’s campaign to end overdose death. As a day to remember and reduce stigma for those who have died, International Overdose Awareness Day acknowledges the grief of family and friends left behind.

“Drug use used to be considered a character problem—and is too often still thought of this way,” detailed Richard Alan Friedman, M.D., professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at Weill Cornell Medicine. “But we really know that addiction is a brain-based problem. There are differences between people who get addicted versus those who don’t. And it’s not weakness, it’s not character weakness. It’s actually genetic biological differences.”

Understanding Addiction and Recovery

Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease that involves biological or genetic factors and a person’s environment. People experiencing addiction use substances or engage in compulsive behaviors despite negative consequences to their life.

“Let’s say you got high in your friend’s house, stopped using the drug, and then later visited that friend again” says Dr. Friedman. “Well, guess what happens? You go into that room and, without you being consciously aware, you start to crave the drug because your brain has linked to all these situations. People experience craving to all the cues that are linked to the experience of using a drug. You can't just get rid of the craving.”

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine have identified several risk factors that may put someone at higher risk of developing addiction, including:

  • Family history of drug use or addiction
  • Fewer dopamine receptors in the brain
  • Learned behaviors or drug exposure

If addiction does develop, it’s almost always possible to recover. Experts at Weill Cornell Medicine agree that the longer a person engages in evidence-based treatment the greater their chances for long-term recovery.

It can be challenging for the family members and friends of a person with an addiction to cope with their loved one’s substance abuse issues. Yet with more than 20 million Americans in recovery from addiction, it’s possible for your loved one too. Attending International Overdose Awareness events may provide additional information and support.

“With addiction, you're essentially dealing with a person who is using something—and they're using it for a reason,” says Dr. Friedman. “They think it makes them feel better. So, when you say to somebody, ‘You know, you have a problem, you should stop doing this,’ you're basically taking away something that's pleasurable. They don't see that it's linked to these other terrible consequences, like poor relationships and problems at work.”

International Overdose Awareness During the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the frequency of substance misuse throughout the world. This undoubtedly led to an increased volume of individuals developing addiction.

“All the risk factors for addiction—mental and physical health issues, trauma, isolation, financial stress, family stress—have increased, so we are seeing so many people drinking more,” says Jonathan Avery, MD, Stephen P. Tobin and Dr. Arnold M. Cooper Associate Professor in Consultation Liaison Psychiatry and Vice Chair for Addiction Psychiatry. “Alcohol consumption among adults increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020, and 41% among women, in particular.”

Drug overdoses also increased during the pandemic:

  • In March 2020, drug overdose deaths were 23% higher than the previous March.
  • In April 2020, overdose deaths were 36% higher than the previous April.
  • May 2020 saw a 58% increase in drug overdose deaths compared to May of the previous year.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids like fentanyl are the type of drug most responsible for opioid overdose deaths. 74.8% of all drug overdose deaths were caused by opioids.
  • The CDC reported a 28.5% increase in drug overdose deaths in a 12-month period ending in April 2021 than during the same period the year before.

Community Is Important for Healing

Though the increases in drug overdose deaths during the pandemic are sobering, experts agree community can play a vital role in healing from substance abuse.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration lists Four Major Dimensions of Recovery:

  • Community
  • Health
  • Home
  • Purpose

An impactful community includes relationships and support networks that provide someone with the emotional resources that save lives. The events affiliated with the International Overdose Awareness Day create an international community focused on overdose education and prevention.

These types of support are critical not only for those in recovery but for family and friends of those experiencing substance abuse. August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, so start building the best community for you.

The Weill Cornell Medicine Program for Substance Use and Stigma of Addiction is an invaluable resource not only for individuals struggling with a substance use disorder, but their family and physicians as well. The program’s primary focus is ending the stigma associated with addiction through clinical services, community initiatives, personal stories, and educational programming.

Ways to Get Involved

There are several ways to get involved with International Overdose Awareness Day this August 31, whether your life has been directly touched by addiction or not.

The hashtag #iOAD2022 is used to recognize the day on social media platforms. Search the tag on your favorite social media platform to see how other organizations and communities have observed International Awareness Day in previous years. Feeling inspired? Click here to learn more about how you can participate.

Do you or a loved one need treatment for addiction? Get comprehensive outpatient treatment at Weill Cornell Medicine’s Midtown Center for Treatment and Research.