Every year on August 31, the world observes Overdose Awareness Day and remembers those who have died or been injured as a result of a drug overdose. Substance abuse affects thousands of Canadians, with around 47,000 substance abuse related deaths occurring each year nationwide. Although Overdose Awareness Day marks an occasion of mourning and remembering, it is also a day of looking ahead in hope for a drug-free future.
What is an overdose?
The body is usually able to safely metabolize very small doses of the toxins that are present in certain drugs. Overdose occurs when a person ingests a drug in such an amount that the body cannot metabolize it quickly enough to prevent its harmful effects.
The effects of overdose vary from drug to drug. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can elevate the heartrate and blood pressure to dangerous levels, sometimes resulting in coronary failure; depressants like opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol have the opposite effect, slowing down the processes of internal organs like the heart and lungs and eventually stopping their functioning altogether.
Which substances cause overdose?
The risk of overdose increases when drugs are taken in combination with other drugs (for example, when alcohol is taken with a narcotic) or when the body is unused to the drug (i.e. the body has not built up sufficient tolerance). A variety of different substances can cause overdose, including alcohol, prescription medications, and illicit drugs. Prescription painkillers like codeine, fentanyl, and oxycodone (collectively known as narcotics or opioids) are becoming an increasing cause for concern in Canada, which is the second-largest prescriber of opioid medications in the world and which has seen a consequent surge in opioid misuse and abuse in the past several years. Fentanyl has risen to the top of health practitioners’ radar as it has emerged as a popular street drug, resulting in hundreds of overdose deaths each year.
Overdoses have ended many lives, and have left a lingering impact on many others. By acknowledging this crisis and working towards a solution, we can create a safe, drug-free future.