Overdose Awareness Day 2021 | SHE RECOVERS Community Stories
By Kelly Fitzgerald Junco | SHE RECOVERS® Foundation
On this overdose awareness day we honor those who have been impacted by overdose. We thank the members of the SHE RECOVERS Community for courageously sharing their experience in an effort to smash stigma, prevent overdose, and save lives.
Overdose Awareness Day is a global event commemorated every August 31. It began in 2001 by Sally J Finn from the Salvation Army in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the world’s largest campaign aimed to end overdose, reduce stigma, and acknowledge and mourn those who have died, as well as the grief their loved ones feel. Each year the campaign raises awareness about the tragedy of overdose death and seeks to educate on how to prevent overdose.
During the last 18 months as the world copes with the deadly Coronavirus pandemic, drug overdose deaths are on the rise. In fact, in the U.S. overdose deaths have risen 30 percent to a record high. More than 93,000 died from a drug overdose in 2020 in the U.S. and 6,200 in Canada. Due to lockdowns, in-person drug treatment programs were not operating as usual and help was hard to find. Additionally, more drugs were being laced with synthetic opioids. Social distancing guidelines made it difficult for people to access harm reduction programs where recovery resources, opioid substitution therapy, and the opioid antidote, Narcan, were readily accessible. This has been an important factor in the rising overdose deaths.
That’s why Overdose Awareness Day is important now more than ever. And with that, we wanted to bring to light personal experiences with overdose from our own SHE RECOVERS community. Our voices and stories have the power to raise awareness, can help ourselves and others to feel seen and heard, and smash the stigma that often surrounds substance use, overdose, and recovery.
We thank each and every one of you for being vulnerable and sharing these vulnerable, but important and life-changing stories. I would like to give a content warning here, as we will be talking about overdose and loss. Some names have been changed in order to protect people’s anonymity.
Sonya: From heartbreak to recovery
Sonya is a woman in recovery who will celebrate two years free from heroin in September of this year. Prior to entering recovery, Sonya felt like she had everything in the world and her relationship with her fiancé was great, he was a successful businessman. However, her world came crashing down one night when her fiancé overdosed on cocaine with fentanyl. Sonya found him unresponsive in their bed when she woke up. Since then she has spent time in jail and vowed never to go back to drugs. She now has her own cleaning business and credits her success to therapy, Recovery Dharma meetings, and the desire to not be a person who keeps cycling through the system.
Sarah : A beautiful spirit lost too soon
Kendra has been left grieving her friend Sarah. Sarah was only 21 years old and had been dealt an unfair hand in life, being betrayed by most authority figures along the way. She spent some time in prison for drugs, sex work, and robbery. She has a beautiful daughter and struggled to make money to care for her. The profession she chose took a toll on her and she used drugs to cope. She had just reunited with her daughter and vowed to get sober, but ended up losing her life that same night from an overdose. Sarah is missed and loved by many.
Tannice: A Nurse Calling For Action
Tannice is a nurse practitioner who is faced daily with the horror and grief of overdose loss. As a healthcare provider, Tannice wanted to share her unique experience with losing many of her patients over the years. She has been so heartbroken by the grief and loss, she has stopped counting the number of patients she’s lost and has stopped attending funerals. Tannice finds comfort in the compassion, hope, and support she has been able to provide. She wishes there were more mental health and addiction resources that fit her patients’ needs.
Amy: Transforming Pain Into Purpose
Amy’s story begins as a concerned mother who watched her son Owen battle addiction. Three years ago he survived an overdose by being administered Narcan, and he just celebrated 3 years in recovery this month. This event and subsequent recovery has changed how Amy views life and the priorities and goals she sets for herself each day. She works in the behavioral health field and is committed to increasing access and education of the life saving tool, Narcan, that saved her son. She has created her own Narcan nasal spray carrier, called CHANCE, to help keep Narcan safe and secure, allowing overdose witnesses to safely administer it when they need to.
Sandra: Awakening to Recovery
Sandra is a 58 year old mom and wife who found herself in an abusive relationship that took a major toll on her mental health. One day she found herself drinking at home alone and in an effort to numb her pain decided to take Xanax too. Her overdose led her to the ER, followed by a mental health facility stay. She is so thankful to be here and appreciative of the unconditional love and support from her family and friends.
We asked our community what they would say to someone who is currently struggling with a substance use disorder and here is what they had to say:
- People love you, you matter. Stay here with us.
- It is possible to recover.
- Do NOT ever give up. Find your people and your support system and keep them close.
- Keep Narcan close and please know you are WORTH life and love!
- There is so much for you to do in your life and you have a purpose.
- You are so important and so worthy of love and kindness.
Across the board we learned that our community believes:
- Better access to treatment is needed.
- Smashing stigma through recovery advocacy can inspire people and communities to listen and change.
- Providing more education surrounding addiction not being a moral issue should be a priority.
- Having Narcan readily available for each person using drugs absolutely saves lives.
- More resources supporting drug users and their families is desperately needed.
Image description: Amy’s son Owen and his recovery group in California.
Here are some overdose prevention resources that are currently available:
- CDC overdose resources
- Harm Reduction Coalition overdose resources
- NextDistro mail-based Narcan access
- SHE RECOVERS Mental Health Monday Educational Series
- Recovery Advocacy Project
- Shatterproof’s plan to reduce stigma
- SHE RECOVERS trauma-informed online gatherings for recovery support
We want to extend our sympathies to each and every person who is grieving a loved one today. We want to honor those we have lost and will continue to work towards a better world in their name. What we’ve learned is overdose can happen to anyone. It’s common and it’s preventable.
We strive to highlight the realities of substance use, addiction, and recovery and provide hope to those who need it. Please remember: You never have to recover alone. All recovery pathways are valid. We believe in early intervention. You don’t need to hit bottom to pursue recovery.