In the past few years, we at The LLF have seen a significant increase in the number of organ donors who have died as a result of a opioid drug overdose. In the last year alone, we have seen our percentage of donors from drug overdose almost double. Nationally, 1 in 11 organ donors has died of an overdose – here in Maryland, that number is 1 in 6. We are eternally grateful to the donors and their families who choose to give life in moments of tragedy. We also recognize our responsibility as members of this community to do what we can to fight this epidemic.
Drug addiction is one of the greatest health epidemics of our time. Overdose deaths have more than doubled in the past 6 years and continue to rise, especially deaths attributed to opioid overdose. More Americans die from drug overdoses than in car crashes. You may think this issue doesn’t affect you, but the truth is that 1 in 10 Americans over the age of twelve have a substance use disorder. Many of those suffering don’t get treatment because they feel judged, stigmatized, and worthless.
But you can help. By changing the way you talk about, think about, and treat people with addiction, you can help to create an environment and society in which those suffering from this disease and their families feel empowered to get treatment for recovery.
How To Talk About Addiction
Avoid the word “choice.” Addiction is not a choice, a moral failing, or a result of “bad decisions” – it is a medically proven disease, just like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. And it’s just as life-threatening if left untreated.
Reject the word “drug addict,” “drug abuser,” and other harmful labels. It’s disrespectful to describe a human being in one or two words, especially ones with such overwhelmingly negative connotations. You would never say, “my mother the cancer,” you would say “my mother has cancer,” and that would surely not be the only way you described her. Please keep in mind that people with addictions are people first.
Leave stereotypes behind. Addiction knows no boundaries. People of all backgrounds, races, ages, genders, and geographical locations are susceptible to this epidemic.
How You Can Help End the Epidemic
Educate yourself and those around you, especially kids. Learn the facts and the impact of addiction and the opioid epidemic. Talk to family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors and encourage them to learn the facts as well. Talk to children very early on (even at 9 years old) about drugs and addiction.
Don’t let stereotypes and discrimination slide. If you hear someone using harmful stereotypes and perpetuating addiction stigma, speak up. You’ll be glad you did, and odds are, others around you will be too.
Support people in recovery or those seeking recovery. Recovery is rarely easy, it may take multiple attempts. Help those you encounter reach recovery by being understanding, non-judgmental, and supportive.
Get trained to administer Naloxone. Naloxone is a safe, effective medication that, when given in time, can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. This training is essential if you or a loved one uses opioids, be they legal prescription drugs or illicit. Even if you think you don’t need it, training may allow you to save the life of a stranger.
Properly dispose of unused medication. Prescription drugs left in the home can end up in the wrong hands, including children and elderly family members. Take advantage of the many “drug drop boxes” in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and many other Maryland counties. If a box is unavailable, use the Deterra pouch, a drug deactivation system that prevents misuse and protects the environment.
Grief Recovery After a Death from Substance Use: www.grasphelp.org
Know the Signs of Addiction: http://drugabuse.com/library/symptoms-and-signs-of-drug-abuse/
Help End the Heroin Epidemic: http://www.drugfree.org/can-help-end-heroin-epidemic-find/
Find Help & Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder: http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help
Learn More and Help Fight the Stigma: www.overdoseday.org & http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/stop-addiction/state-without-stigma/