International Overdose Awareness Day is held on August 31 of each year. It is a global event focused on raising awareness about prescription opioid overdose risk, providing information on available community services and preventing drug-related harm. This year’s theme is “Time to Remember. Time to Act.” The nation is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Since 2000, the drug overdose death rate has increased by 137%; including a 200% increase in the rate of opioid (including prescription opioids, like oxycodone, and nonprescription street drugs, like heroin) overdose deaths. The epidemic continues to impact thousands of people, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015.
Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable and is committed to providing a platform to acknowledge the grief felt by those who have lost a loved one. Earlier this month, there were over 180 registered overdose awareness events in the United States and over 260 registered events around the world. These events provide people the opportunity to stand together to remember those who have been lost and advocate for those suffering from addiction. Many of our tribal communities have hosted similar events in the past.
The Indian Health Service (IHS) Heroin, Opioid, and Pain Efforts (HOPE) Committee is working diligently with tribes, tribal programs, and Indian health care professionals to increase knowledge across Indian Country about overdose prevention and naloxone, a life-saving medication that can be administered to an individual suspected to have overdosed on heroin or opioids. Overdose prevention starts with improving prescribing patterns, preventing misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, and providing treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction. In addition, IHS has a multitude of available resources for health care professionals, community leaders and school instructors, including both the IHS pain management and opioid dependence management websites and the IHS opioid overdose and naloxone reversal training video .
In 2016, the CDC released a Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain . This guideline provides recommendations for primary care clinicians who are prescribing opioids for chronic pain outside of active cancer treatment, palliative care, and end-of-life care. There are various tools health care professionals can use to reduce patient exposure to opioids and prevent abuse, which include utilizing prescription drug monitoring programs, developing quality improvement programs within health care facilities that review prescribing patterns and implementing youth or school programs within local communities that initiate conversations about risks of drug use.
Finally, providing a holistic, comprehensive, and interdisciplinary treatment approach to individuals suffering from addiction will ultimately reduce overdose deaths. In addition, it is imperative to continue to increase access to naloxone in order to save lives of overdose victims.
All of these efforts aim to stop the rise in overdose deaths in Indian Country and around the world.