August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day, and a day for us to pause, remember, and act for those who have lost their life to overdose. One thousand, three hundred and thirty nine people lost their lives to drugs in Scotland last year. The highest in Europe, each person a unique human being, someone with family, friends and communities who loved them and sadly lost them to overdose.
People that Simon Community Scotland work alongside often face some of the most difficult situations and circumstances. Many people have struggled with problem alcohol and other drug use for many years, a consequence of systemic and relational failures in keeping them safe, cared for and included. Homelessness is another consequence. More than half of the deaths of people experiencing homelessness were drug related (NRS Scotland). Today is a day to consider what else needs to be done to support people who are at risk of overdose. We know that the answer to this is complex and far reaching, that it requires all of us to be committed to change, it requires what is seen as a radical shift in thinking and approach. It requires putting people at the centre of their care, access to support when needed, informed choice, a range of treatments, good quality and sustained housing. It requires radical kindness, compassion and understanding. Addressing and dismantling stigma seen and felt across all sectors of society. It requires all of us.
So far this year within our services, staff have administered Naloxone over 70 times – this was close to 100 last year. Last week alone, one of our incredible colleagues responded to an overdose in the street after being alerted by a local cafe owner, another saved someone’s life in one of our residential services, so many lives have been saved. Yet, amongst these stories are also ones where we haven’t been there on time, where we were just too late. We have lost two people to overdose this year, the impact of these losses ripple far and wide across our staff teams and those who were the closest to them. This year, on Overdose Awareness Day, we will be holding memorial events for the people living in our services and staff to remember and mourn those they have lost. Not just for this year, sadly so many people have suffered so much loss, so much grief, so much pain. We need to do more.
Naloxone allows us to intervene in an overdose situation and save a life – we are passionate supporters of Naloxone within homelessness settings, and anywhere where people who may be at risk of overdose may be. We see Naloxone as part of a wide range of interventions and approaches to reduce the risk of overdose, support people to feel included, cared for, loved.
Reducing the harm is everyone’s responsibility – it needs to be if we are going to start having an impact on the amount of people lost to overdose each year. This requires us to put relationships, compassion, dignity and rights at the centre of every interaction we have with a person who may be at risk of overdose.
We need to stop turning people away but bring them in, stick with people, listen, learn and strive to understand. Each person lost to overdose is a preventable death – someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, friend.
On this Overdose Awareness Day we stand with all those who have lost a loved one to overdose, to challenge the stigma facing people who use drugs and to work for change. Every life matters.