International Overdose Awareness Day: All substances can be toxic, and the dose makes the poison

August 31, 2021

By Andrew King, M.D., Wayne Health’s department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health

Drug overdoses do not discriminate, affecting individuals of all ages, genders, races, cultures, and income levels across the globe. Overdoses occur for many reasons and can be intentional (e.g. suicide) or unintentional (e.g. drug experimentation, taking too many to relieve painful conditions). Overdoses may be connected to mental health conditions and other disease processes such as addiction, pain, and mood disorders, but can also affect the completely healthy. Cultural and societal factors can put entire populations at higher or lower risk of drug overdose, making this a complex and nuanced public health issue. The one commonality that seems to affect most overdoses is opportunity and availability.

The global COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on rising unemployment, poverty, abrupt shifts in home and school environments, and subsequent psychosocial and economic stressors has created an environment where individuals may be at increased susceptibility for drug use and risk for drug overdose.

Drug overdose deaths continue to occur at an alarming rate worldwide, with the United States having one of the highest rates. Despite universal warnings of the dangers of drug use and promulgation of associated risks, drug use continues to increase. In the United States, drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 30% between December 2019 and December 2020. Globally, in the last year approximately 275 million people have used drugs, representing a 22% increase since 2010. Projections estimate this figure will rise by another 11% by 2030 worldwide.

Drug use and overdose have serious consequences in our homes, schools, and communities. In addition to the inherent health risks, it can damage familial and relationship dynamics and also place unsuspecting bystanders, like young children, at risk of exposure to prescription, over-the-counter, or even illegal drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 50,000 emergency department (ED) visits result from unintentional medication overdoses among children under the age of 5. Over 90% of ED visits for unintentional medication overdoses in children under 5 years of age involve exposure to medications without caregiver oversight.

In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, the Michigan Poison & Drug Information Center (MiPDC) would like to echo the message highlighting the significance of educating the public about drug overdose, promoting overdose prevention efforts, and reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders. We stand in solidarity with those whose lives have been affected, directly or indirectly, by drug overdose and we dedicate our ongoing efforts to help memorialize the individuals whose lives have been lost.

The MiPDC calls on every citizen in communities throughout our state, nation, and in every community throughout the world to take care of one another, support those who are in needs of help, and take measures to promote medication safety for prescription and over-the-counter medications. These include:

  • Avoid distractions while taking or administering medication.
  • Assure prescription medications are being given to the correct person at the correct time by checking the label each time medication is prepared for use.
  • Only take the medications as prescribed and if you have any questions, contact the prescriber.
  • Avoid taking or administering medications when children are present (children are curious and may want to emulate this behavior).
  • Never equate medication with candy or any other food item to child or other vulnerable populations. Close medication bottles and containers immediately after use.
  • Use medication lock boxes or cupboards with locks to store medication.
  • If medication must be stored cold, use a locking device approved for refrigerators.
  • Marijuana and products containing THC, like edibles, should be handled and stored with the same or greater caution than medications.

Harm reduction measures for substance use include:

  • Never using alone.
  • Have access and know how to use naloxone.
  • Have access to clean supplies.
  • Never share supplies.
  • Use less dangerous methods of administration (e.g. IV instead of snorting).
  • Know your local resources for help.

Children and others find medication and other substances in environments outside of the home often. When visiting other homes or locations, try to look at the surroundings from a child’s vantage point and dispose of foreign items that may be medication or other high-risk substances the proper way. Do not dispose of medication in trash cans, sink drains, or toilets. Medication that is found, should be stored securely until you are able to dispose of it properly. Check with local municipalities for drug disposal programs or call your local poison center for guidance.

Schedule an appointment with a Wayne Health Psychiatry and Behavioral Health provider today on our website or by calling 877-929-6342

International Overdose Awareness Day: All substances can be toxic, and the dose makes the poison
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