International Overdose Awareness Day: Statement from RNAO

Aug. 31, 2020

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. As nurses, we must take a moment to share and acknowledge the people in Ontario who die daily from opioid-related overdose and substance poisoning. As of April 2020, 647 people had already died in Ontario from an opioid overdose. Each victim was someone's loved one: a parent, a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, a friend, a co-worker or a neighbor. Many were too young to die. 

We must reflect on the challenges of those who live the precarious cycle of use-overdose-use. They live a difficult and perilous life and often do so in silence. Some are even estranged from those whom they love. Persons who use substances look to others – sometimes a teacher, a nurse or other health professional – for support, resources and that glimmer of hope to keep them going.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on health systems globally, and has exacerbated the opioid crisis. RNAO has spoken up with and for victims and their loved ones, advocating for changes to reduce harm and provide supervised consumption services in any and all communities in need across the province. These consumption sites, and the free naloxone they provide, are vital to save lives. And, so is the urgent need for safe supplies. Without this, people will continue to die preventable deaths. 

Substance use can happen to anyone from any walk of life, and RNs are not immune. 

RN and RNAO member Kathy Moreland lost her 18-year-old son Austin to a fentanyl-related incident on June 26, 2020. Marilyn Muir, an RN and mother of two, was featured in RNJ, RNAO’s digital publication, in February 2019, detailing her traumatic story of addiction and the loss of her son Neal to overdose in 2016. In that same issue, RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun wrote a column about the death of Brad Chapman, the brother of RNAO members Dr. Leigh Chapman and RN mother Cori Chapman. The father of three died of overdose in 2015. RNAO played a leading role in the inquest following Brad’s death, participating as a witness and providing a submission alongside his courageous family with recommendations that were largely adopted by the jury. In 2018, RNAO’s best practice guideline titled Implementing Supervised Injection Services was released. 

Substance-use disorder is the result of many complex and sometimes intersecting factors, including medical mismanagement, genetic predisposition, and often a need to escape from trauma or mental health pain. These issues must be addressed in conjunction with issues of access to the street drugs that pose more threat to life than ever before.

We must all look at ourselves and think about our values and beliefs. Addiction is a disease like any other, and deserves the same compassion and universal access to health services. In this – the Year of the Nurse and the year of COVID-19 – let us commit with resolve and insistence to address this silent killer among us. 

#stopthestigma #compassionnotjudgment #substanceusetxforall #hisdeathisnotinvain