Overdose Awareness Day – A Harm Reduction Approach

As we approach Overdose Awareness Day on 31 August, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the work practices we use within Catalyst to keep clients safe from harm – all the while reducing the very real stigma associated with the choices people make.

A common misconception about harm reduction is that it condones or encourages drug use. Harm reduction supports the goal of people working towards abstinence from alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviours, but recognises that for many people this process takes time, and while the person is still drinking, using drugs, or engaging in other addictive behaviours, both they and the people around them are still very vulnerable to harm.

Through every aspect of our work, harm reduction is the key aim in improving the lives of people. From recognising that people use alcohol and drugs as a way of coping to talking about the wider health implications.

The word overdose generally conjures up a picture of injecting drug use but it is worth thinking about people who drink, mix their drugs or are ill-informed about the effects of substances. A breadth of knowledge and understanding by someone working with the client group is key to reducing harm; an understanding of how someone has taken the drug, the circumstances and location, general and the what are the signs of overdose through to calling an ambulance.

Injecting drug use is associated with many serious drug-related harms, such as the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and bacterial infections. Access to support like needle exchange, opioid substitution (methadone)and naloxone (used to combat the effects of heroin overdose) distribution are essential to reducing these harms and improving the health of people who use drugs.

Xchange in Woking, Surrey provides people with access to clean needles and other equipment to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis C as well as preventing other health complications, and giving opportunities for advice and support.  Xchange also reduces the number of discarded needles in the community and the incidence of needle-stick injuries by returning used needles for safe disposal.

Xchange doesn’t encourage drug use – it provides a connection between the most vulnerable drug users and treatment services, and saves lives that would otherwise be lost to drugs.

The team at Xchange provide sterile water, alcohol wipes, condoms and lots of related health information in a safe and anonymous way. The success of Xchange comes from the central principle that drug users are not judged and are treated with courtesy and respect. As drug users are a highly stigmatised group, it is important they feel welcome and respected for voluntarily participating in safer practices for themselves and the community.

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held on 31st August each year which aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

International Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose is preventable.

Overdose Awareness DayShow Your Support – the silver badge and the purple wristband are symbols of awareness of overdose and its effects. Wearing these can signify the loss of someone cherished; or demonstrate support to those undergoing grief. It sends out a message that every person’s life is valuable and that stigmatising people who use drugs needs to stop.

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