Overdose

International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day

August 31st is International! It is a time to raise awareness of drug overdose and remember those who have died or suffered permanent injury – and acknowledge the grief of their family and friends. Overdose is known to be one of the world’s worst public health crises. According to the CDC, over 81,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the US in the past 12 months from June 2019-May 2020 (which is the highest number ever recorded). The CDC also points out that synthetic opioids are the primary cause for the increase in overdose deaths. Deaths from opioid overdose have increased 38.4% in the past 12 months. Overdose deaths involving cocaine also increased by 26.5% (research points out that this is most likely due to contamination of cocaine with fentanyl or heroin). 

It is crucial to be aware that a range of signs and symptoms can occur when a person overdoses, and everyone will respond differently. You shouldn’t only call an ambulance if someone is unconscious. Other signs to look for is if the person is experiencing any of these symptoms: 

  • A seizure  
  • A severe headache  
  • Chest pain  
  • Breathing difficulties  
  • Extreme paranoia, agitation, and/or confusion  

Make sure to stay with the person and assure them if they are conscious. If unconscious, turn them on their side to prevent them from choking on their vomit. Continuously monitor the person until help arrives. Don’t ignore snoring or gurgling cause this may indicate that a person is having trouble breathing.  

Overdose and addiction have always been serious issues. However, the spread of awareness this year is crucial because the situation is increasingly becoming worse. While overdose numbers were already increasing during 2019, it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an acceleration of overdose deaths. The pandemic disrupted everyone’s daily life, and we all had to adjust to a “new normal.” However, the pandemic also had a significant impact on those struggling with substance use disorder. After all, the pandemic not only changed our lives in a physical sense, but many of us also had to face challenges with our mental health. The pandemic led to many people feeling stressed (both in a personal and economic sense) and isolated. These feelings can be harmful to those struggling with addiction because they may engage in substance use to deal with these feelings. The feeling of isolation and scarcity of obtaining drugs have also contributed to the risk of overdose.  

Thus, it is a significant time to honor and remember those who lost their lives or have been severely impacted by their substance use disorder. Also, remember that this may be the first time family members may be openly mourning their loved ones. We should respect and provide a safe environment for families to grieve and mourn without having to feel guilt or shame. Many of those who have suffered from overdose and addiction may also find this day triggering. We encourage those struggling to take time for themselves and maybe reach out to anyone who will listen (a medical professional or family and friends). Know that you are valued.  

August 31st is also a crucial time we can collectively come together as a society and make an active effort to discuss and work towards better evidence-based overdose prevention and drug policy. You can start by: 

  • Showing your support by actively participating in events and campaigns 
  • Hold an event in your community 
  • Post a tribute to loved ones who have died or who have suffered permanent injury to overdose 
  • Engage with other platforms and reliable sources on social media to gain more information  
  • Hold a candlelight vigil 
  • Reach out to anyone who may be struggling during this time  
  • Support and donate to organizations that work to treat and prevent the disease of addiction 
  • Open the doors to informative discussions about substance use disorder and drug overdoses  

We can all begin by educating ourselves and encouraging those with the knowledge to educate others. The more conversations we have about this issue, the more impact and difference it can have on breaking stigmas around drug-related deaths and substance use disorder. It is important to remember that anyone can be affected by an overdose, not just a specific group of people. If we work towards breaking these stigmas and forming better research-based approaches to overdose and drug policy, society can provide individuals suffering from addiction better help and support in their journey of getting better.  

While the pandemic may have worsened the opioid epidemic, it has also brought positive changes to this issue. Because of the pandemic and lockdown, Telehealth is a positive development that has emerged during this time. It gives people struggling with substance abuse and addiction another accessible way of reaching out for help without traveling to a specific place. Also, as society has more open and informative conversations around this issue, awareness is being raised, and the stigmas around this issue are being dismantled. There is still lots of work that needs to get done. However, these conversations are making a huge impact and allowing society to take significant steps forward. While this is a day filled with grieving, it is also a day filled with hope for the positive changes that will continue to emerge in the present and future.  

As we take this time to spread awareness of drug overdose, it is important that everyone makes a collective effort to learn more about this topic. If you or a loved one is suffering (or if you want to learn more about this topic), we recommend you look into these resources for further information and guidance: 

We also encourage anyone struggling with a substance use disorder to reach out to their physician, other health professionals, support groups, family, and friends. We are all in this together, and we will all work to overcome this crisis.  

Sources: overdoseday.com and cdc.gov 

Vaccinations

National Immunization Awareness Month

National Immunization Awareness Month

This August is National Immunization Month (NIAM)! NIAM is a time held in August every year to highlight and spread awareness of the importance of vaccinations for people at every stage of their life. Vaccinations play a crucial role in our health because they help protect us from numerous preventable diseases such as chickenpox, measles, pneumonia, shingles, flu, hepatitis, whooping cough, cancers caused by HPV, and many other ailments. Vaccinations are also a crucial topic for this month now that many people are heading back to their regular routines after spending many months at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone must receive all the recommended vaccines to help keep themselves and others protected from various diseases (especially COVID-19). August is also the month when many children will be heading back to school after spending most of their last school year at home in an online class. It is important to make sure that our children’s health is at its best.  

While parents must make sure that their children are up to date on all their vaccines, they still play a crucial role for people of all ages. One of the reasons why many people don’t hear as much about severe cases is due to the high immunization rates in the US. Thanks to vaccines, diseases such as polio, tetanus, or the flu don’t result in such serious health consequences. However, certain groups and other places in the world still struggle to vaccinate their people. Thus, it is important that we still work on spreading awareness on how crucial of role vaccines play in our health.  

Early Childhood/Adolescence  

Vaccines play an important role for children because they work together with their natural defenses in building up protection against various diseases. Diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough) or measles are harmful to children younger than 2 years old. It is imperative that they receive their vaccines in a timely manner that their doctor recommends. While many parents may be afraid of the side effects vaccinations may have on some children and adolescents, trust that these vaccines have been tested and researched and are safe and effective. Vaccines are unlikely to cause serious illness. Instead, they help build the essential protection a child/adolescent needs against contagious diseases. According to the CDC, vaccinations help protect children/adolescents from 15 different diseases such as chickenpox, tetanus, polio, the flu, etc. For adolescents, one of the most important vaccines is the HPV vaccine because it protects them against cancers that can form due to being infected with the disease. 

Adulthood  

The CDC also points to a national survey that indicates that many adults are unaware that they need vaccines to help protect against serious diseases such as the flu, shingles, pertussis, and hepatitis. It is a significant issue because thousands of adults suffer, are hospitalized, and/or die from diseases (which can be prevented/made less severe with a vaccine). Even if you have received all the recommended vaccines as a child, some vaccines can wear off as months or years pass by (such as the flu vaccine). Thus, it is essential to continuously check with your physicians or other health care professionals to see if you are missing any vaccines. Many adults may also be at risk for other diseases due to their job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions. Adults with health conditions that lead to a weakened immune system are encouraged to talk with their physician/health care professional to see what additional vaccines are recommended.  

Pregnant Women  

Two vaccines are routinely recommended during pregnancy: the flu shot and the Tdap vaccine. Vaccinations in pregnant women play a significant role because changes in someone’s heart, lungs, and immune system during pregnancy can increase the chances of getting sick from diseases (such as the flu). Due to changes in one’s body and immune system, pregnant individuals may be more at risk of developing complications with these diseases throughout their pregnancy. Getting vaccinated during pregnancy also helps protect newborn babies that are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening complications to diseases such as pertussis (whooping cough). Research has also shown that individuals who receive a vaccine can pass the antibodies to their baby after birth, which means that babies can have short-term protection from the flu and whooping cough until they can receive their vaccinations. We understand that it may be daunting to receive vaccinations while pregnant. Trust that experts have meticulously researched and concluded that these vaccines are safe for pregnant women and their babies. We encourage you to talk to your physicians or other health care professionals to gather more information and insight on vaccines if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.  

The Pandemic and Vaccinations: 

NIAM this August is an important time to make sure that everyone is up to date on their vaccination schedule. The pandemic has led to many people postponing their regular check-ups and routine vaccinations- or their children’s. Thus, many individuals must make sure that they and their family members are up to date on their vaccines. This action is essential as many individuals start to return to their regular schedule/routine (and for those who may be more at risk of getting sick or developing a severe reaction to a disease). It is also important for children because they will be going back to in-person school after spending a majority (if not all) of their school year at home and online. It means that they will be re-entering into an environment where it will be easier for them to get sick. Thus, it is crucial for children to have their immune systems strengthened, along with the protection that vaccines provide against vaccine-preventable diseases (especially since COVID-19 vaccines are not available to children yet).  

While vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat, vaccinations are the best protection one can have against these diseases (and they can prevent/lessen the severity of how they will be affected). While the side effects may seem daunting to some individuals, it is unknown how severely an unvaccinated individual will be affected by vaccine-preventable diseases. As a community, getting vaccinated is a shared responsibility to help protect yourself and the community (especially individuals such as babies who are too young to get their vaccines) or those around you when you travel. This month we encourage everyone to talk to their physicians or health care professionals to ensure that you and your family are up to date on your vaccines.  

Sources: cdc.gov