Friday is International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event aimed at raising awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
While this may be a time to remember, it is also a time to act. Nationally, there is an epidemic in opioid-related overdoses. In 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States. In Philadelphia, the opioid epidemic, which took 1,217 lives last year, has the highest death rate of any major U.S. city
What many fail to realize is that every fatal overdose is preventable.
One way to stem the tide: Philadelphia needs an overdose prevention site — also known as a safe injection site — to keep people alive and to reduce harms associated with illicit drug use, such as the spread of infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV.
There are currently no legally sanctioned overdose prevention sites in the country, but globally they have had remarkable success. In Vancouver, studies have shown that these sites have prevented thousands of overdose deaths, slowed the transmission of HIV, and provided significant help to those with the disease of addiction.
In January 2018, Philadelphia city officials green lit the possibility of an overdose prevention site in the city– they call the sites CUES, comprehensive user engagement sites — but we have seen zero action to make this a reality.
At the sites, trained staff would be immediately available to administer medications, such as naloxone, to counteract opioid overdoses. Social workers would be on hand to counsel drug users in the hope that they could be steered into programs intended to help them with their addiction and provide other immediate social service resources.
In addition to saving lives, prevention sites would relieve other health and service sectors of our city. Emergency rooms are being overwhelmed with overdoses, putting a strain on medical staff and costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. A prevention site would help alleviate the cost of treating an overdose at the ER.
We need to treat addiction as the health-care issue it is, with public health intervention proven to work. Do not let International Overdose Awareness Day be a time only for remembrance of those we've lost. Now is the time for action. This is a pivotal moment for Philadelphia, a moment to become a pioneer city in handling a national crisis. Urge your local council members to demand an overdose prevention site to save lives and to save our city.