August the 31st was International Overdose Awareness Day. Originally created in 2001, this global event's purpose is to reduce the stigma of drug-related death and allows for family members to publicly mourn without shame or guilt. Equally as important, the mission of this event is to raise awareness to the point that tragic overdose-related death is preventable.
Far too often do communities hear from the outspoken people who believe that addiction is something that those suffering from can "just get over." Giving the differing circumstances that have affected one's outlook on the world, alongside advancing genetic research, our society can begin to rightfully claim that addiction is much more complex than some may think.
The 2016 World Drug Report claimed that there were over 207,400 drug-related deaths in 2014 alone, in which over half were overdose-related with the involvement of uneducated/prescribed use of opiate substances. This staggering number was an increase of 6.5% from 2013. This number exceeds those deaths attributed to Firearms, HIV/AIDS, and Homicides in the United States.
With that number closing in on that of the Peak of the HIV/AIDS outbreak, it is time to start showing compassion to those suffering from addiction and acknowledging what is still hardly understood to this day - the processes, and uniqueness of the human brain. With genetic predispositions to certain substances, most anyone can quickly become addicted to a substance. We would like to send our message that current and former drug users are valued, and have a great potential to continue with their productive lives.
Education is vital in this predicament, as there are several options for those suffering to reach out for help. With the President placing the opioid epidemic to the level of a national emergency, there is hope for funding in the fields of behavioral health, genetic testing, law enforcement training, community education, and naloxone/narcan accessibility. Medical Cannabis Treatment has been approved for those suffering from chronic pain as well. Post-surgical patients often suffer from furthered chronic pain, and opioid prescriptions can certainly assist with pain - though on a long-term basis this treatment may lead to hypersensitivity, muscle rigidity, tolerance/addiction, and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. With Medical Cannabis being used as research, it may shed light on hope for an alternative to opioid pharmacotherapy. Many previous opiate substance users are sharing their stories about this adjuvant therapy, and some can be found here.
Though systematic therapy, such as psychotherapy, can be used to combat the powers of addiction, it is equally as important for community members to play an active role in being educated on addiction. With mainstream media outlets and current drug policy in place, we have been exposed to a twisted perception of drug use and addiction, with a large stigma surrounding it. Harm reduction is an important and logical tactic in helping our fellow humans, with many universities committing to 911 Good Samaritan Policies which shield people from punishment if they are involved with or are an overdosing user. This practice allows for the person to receive proper emergency care in the case of an overdose - allowing for the person to see another day and live up to their potential.
Addiction can be crippling to the one suffering from it, the family members, and others who are surrounded by it. With compassion and education, we can move past our old stigmas, and work towards a world where addiction is understood and treatable, rather than swept under the rug. To keep an open mind about alternative treatments is to believe in the future of our communities, children, parents, and loved ones because addiction can strike you just as easily as it could strike me and this is all based on our biological factors alongside previous experiences.