International Overdose Awareness Day, observed annually on 31 August, aims to raise awareness of overdose, create change and acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends of someone who has died or been injured as a result of overdose.
It is an opportunity for the community to take the first step in having a discussion about drug and alcohol use and what we can collectively do to remove the stigma and shame associated with substance-related disorders.
Drug overdose is tragic and can happen to anyone, but it can be prevented. That’s the simple yet powerful message from BCYF’s Manager Mental Health & AOD Services, Josie Taylor.
With more than 25 years’ experience working in the youth and family services field, including the past six years leading BCYF’s Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) program, Ms Taylor has seen first-hand the devastating impacts of overdose on families in the region.
Ms Taylor said a good place to start was dispelling misconceptions about what a “typical” person who use substances looks like.
“Overdose does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone at some point in their life and its affects are felt by families across all suburbs, from all cultural backgrounds,” she warns.
“Many people use substances, legal and illegal, in their everyday lives. The key is not demonise it. We need to question our perceptions and stereotypes so we can talk openly about it.”
Ms Taylor said the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic were having an impact on alcohol and drug use in the community.
“When people experience an increase in stress during times of uncertainty many often choose to use alcohol and drugs as a strategy to cope with change and lessen anxiety.”
“Continuing lockdowns are creating added stress for families forced to spend more time under one roof, without access to the usual distractions, social networks and outlets. At the same time, alcohol has remained in steady supply with bottle shops open and services such as home delivery and click and collect ensuring easy access,” she added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also interrupted the usual drug supply networks, so people may now be accessing substances they might not normally use.
“We need to be proactive in reaching out to people to educate them about the risks and allow people to make more informed choices,” Ms Taylor said.
But the pandemic has also presented some with opportunity. The increased time families are spending together has also created the chance for greater awareness of any changes in behaviour that may indicate a substance problem.
“If you notice changes in someone’s behaviour, don’t make assumptions but do let them know you care. It’s important not to not shy away from having the conversation if you’re worried about a loved one, but approach them in a gentle and compassionate way. You could be the change in that person’s life.”
“If you’re feeling nervous about having that conversation, family drug and alcohol services can help. The important thing to know is that you’re not alone.”
Ms Taylor warns that it’s not always possible to stop someone from using substances if they are not ready to change, but there are things you can do keep them safe and to empower yourself.
“Equip yourself with knowledge and information so you’re able to talk to someone in a more informed way. Knowing the facts about drugs of all kinds, their effects on the body and what to do in the case of an overdose can save lives.”
BCYF’s AOD team provides information, consultation, counselling and support for children, youth and families and works in partnership with Odyssey Barwon and Barwon Health to ensure that people can access the right support and treatment options at the right time. The service continues to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and can be contacted on 1300 022 293 or email email@example.com
Anyone who might be concerned about an increase in their drinking habits during COVID-19 can take BCYF’s Make A Change quiz online.