ReGen highlights community impacts of overdose (23/08/13)

Melbourne, VIC, 23rd August 2013 – In the lead up to International Overdose Awareness Day, UnitingCare ReGen, the lead alcohol and other drug treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania, today reminded Victorians of the consequences of overdose deaths and related injuries for individuals, families and the wider community.

 ReGen CEO Laurence Alvis said:

Overdoses affect us all.  In Australia, hundreds of individuals are permanently injured or die from drug overdoses every year.  For every fatality, there are families, friends and communities that must live with the burden of a life cut short.  Beyond the personal tragedy involved, society must absorb the cost of expensive medical interventions, police and coronial investigations. 

Overdose Awareness Day provides an opportunity to educate, stimulate community discussion, challenge myths and presumptions about drugs and the people who use them.  It also gives us a chance to raise awareness within our community about effective supports and help that is available.

One of the key goals of overdose prevention is to help people survive the intense turbulence of the recovery process.  It is an exercise in hope – hope that change is possible.  By keeping people alive long enough to allow them the opportunity to benefit from other treatment and support services, overdose prevention creates the space for individuals to stabilise their lives, rebuild family connections and return to a full participation in community life.

There are many things we can do to reduce the toll overdoses take on our community. In the past, we have focussed on the need to be aware of overdose risks relating to alcohol and prescription medications, and encouraging the use of basic first aid in response to finding someone in a life-threatening situation.  However, Victoria now appears to be on the cusp of taking a major step forward in overdose prevention.

Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is the drug administered by paramedics responding to suspected opioid overdoses.  It is an intramuscular injection (like an Epi-Pen for anaphylaxis) that does not require extensive medical training to be safely administered.  Since 1995, Naloxone has been safely administered by peers and family members to provide immediate responses to overdose.  This practice has saved lives and avoided a terrible burden to be borne by families and communities around the world. 

In Australia, Naloxone has only been available for peer-administration since 2011.  In spite of the abundant local and international evidence demonstrating their effectiveness and low risk, Naloxone programs currently only operate in the ACT and Sydney. 

The introduction of such programs to empower Victorian peers, partners, parents and other family members to save the life of a loved one is long overdue.  ReGen welcomes recent indications that the Victorian Government will support the roll-out of Naloxone programs and looks forward to the opportunity to work together with peers and family members to reduce harm, support recovery and keep hope alive in people’s lives.

 

Reflecting on ReGen’s work with individuals and families affected by a loved one’s overdose, Mr Alvis said:

The pain and distress of their loss is enormous: the grief at a life cut short and inevitable ‘what ifs’ if there was anything they could have done to prevent it.  That’s enough for anyone to bear, but the stigma associated with drug use often means that they can’t mourn publicly without feeling guilt or shame. 

Challenging this stigma is a long-term project, but providing Naloxone is something we can do now to prevent future overdoses and empower Victorians to save the lives of friends and family members.

Preventing overdose recognises people’s capacity to change.  Overcoming dependent alcohol and other drug use is not a quick or simple process.  Typically, it is a long, difficult and unpredictable journey, with many setbacks along the way.  Setbacks often take the form of short-term lapses or relapses to earlier patterns of substance use and the subsequent risk of overdose.  It is in such circumstances that the true tragedy of many overdoses lies: that many people have died or are permanently injured while they are still seeking change.

Hope makes change possible.  Treatment works.  But there is more that can be done.

 

On August 30th, ReGen will be hosting a free community lunch at its Coburg site to remember those lost to overdose and those they left behind. For information on other International Overdose Awareness Day activities near you, go to http://www.overdoseday.com/ or follow the Twitter conversation via #OD13.

 

Ends

 

For further information or comment please contact Laurence Alvis on (03) 9384 8880.

Background about ReGen:  UnitingCare ReGen is the lead alcohol and other drugs treatment and education agency of UnitingCare Victoria & Tasmania. We have been promoting health and reducing alcohol and other drug related harm since 1970.  We support social justice and sustainable change at an individual, community and systemic level.