To the Editor:
Last week, people who use substances, community organizations, health care professionals, and families will recognize International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s a time to remember, and a time to act. Events took place in Halifax and Sydney on Aug. 30, and in Truro and Amherst on Aug. 31.
International Overdose Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma related to substance use and overdose. This is an opportunity to come together as communities to honour those who have been injured or have died as a result of a substance overdose, as well as to acknowledge the grief felt by families and friends. It’s also a chance for communities to have a focused conversation about what we can do — individually and collectively — to support harm reduction.
Harm reduction is the approach of meeting people where they are, rather than requiring them to change before receiving help or care. Addressing the harms related to substance use not only supports individuals, but also their family and friends, and our communities. Rather than focusing on getting individuals to stop using substances or to reduce their use, harm reduction approaches protect health by preventing infections and overdoses, and providing opportunities for people to access care for mental health, as well as other health care concerns. Substance use is a complex issue that requires compassionate, non-judgemental, non-coercive supports, services, and resources.
One example we’ve seen across Nova Scotia is the use of life-saving naloxone kits that are available for free in community pharmacies. Naloxone is used to reverse an opioid overdose and, with more citizens carrying them, we are not only increasing the number of people who can administer the life-saving injection, but who also have a greater understanding of how to support people who use drugs.
We all have a role to play in harm reduction and we encourage everyone — community members, organizations and businesses — to find out more about International Overdose Awareness Day and learn how you can help apply harm reduction strategies to keep people safe and healthier.
On behalf of the Regional Medical Officers of Health, Nova Scotia Health Authority,
Dr. Ryan Sommers, Medical Officer of Health, Northern Zone
Dr. Daniela Kempkens, Medical Officer of Health, Eastern Zone