International Overdose Awareness Day

(August 31, 2022 – Yakima, WA) – According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s most recent World Annual Drug Report, nearly half a million people around the world died because of drug use in 2019.

Early statistics show that trend increasing and becoming even more dire across all communities this year.  This is due to the increasing tolerance of people who use drugs, disruption of services to help with treatment, increased drug supply chain, and drugs laced with fentanyl which is highly addictive and lethal.

International Overdose Awareness Day was initiated in 2001 and is the largest annual campaign geared toward ending overdose, remembering those who have died, and acknowledging the grief of the family and friends left behind.

This public health crisis does not discriminate by gender, ethnicity or age.  Anyone can become addicted regardless of socioeconomic status or demographics.  Overdoses do, however, leave lasting scars on families and friends and, the most important thing to note, they are preventable.

“Until we all remove the mask of stigma, and see that underneath we are facing an epidemic that is killing our young, our old, regardless of race or religion, of wealth or poverty, we will continue to comfort those ravaged by grief,” says Comprehensive Healthcare Board Member, Megan Tweedy. “My brother was plagued by both the disease of addiction and its diabolical twin, shame. His absence has created a void that no amount of remorse, guilt, pain, and beauty can fill. I am left with a longing to understand and a reminder to treat our most vulnerable with compassion.”

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2020, opioids account for the majority of drug-related deaths and according to the Yakima County website, drug overdose is a growing concern in our area.  In 2021, 98 residents died of drug overdose with is a 34% increase from 73 deaths reported in 2020.  Most overdose deaths, according to the website, involve opioids, specifically fentanyl.

Opioids are drugs that block pain receptors in the brain.  Examples of these drugs include Vicodin (hydrocodone),  Percocet, OxyContin (oxycodone), Methadone, Dilaudid (hydromorphone), and MS Contin (morphine).  They are highly addictive and when laced with an additive called fentanyl, can be even more lethal.  You can’t see or taste Fentanyl and overdose can happen quickly.

Illegally manufactured fentanyl, an opioid often counterfeited to resemble prescription opioids like Percocet or OxyContin, is fast-acting and potent: 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. In 2020, fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine as the drug most involved in overdoses in Washington state.  It is nearly impossible to tell if a drug has been laced with fentanyl, which increases the risk of accidental overdose and death.

“Education about the extreme danger of Fentanyl is extremely important.  This education should include the fact that there is a very high likelihood that Fentanyl may be present in any drug purchased on the street, including non-opioids such as methamphetamine and cocaine,” said Dr. Frank Garner, Chief Medical Officer at Comprehensive Healthcare.

Naloxone is a drug used to treat opioid overdose and can have life saving results when administered properly. It’s important to recognize the signs of overdose and treat accordingly. 

“The state of Washington has continued to work toward assuring that naloxone be available in all pharmacies and in all treatment programs,” Dr. Garner said. “The state continues to work towards assuring that funding is available for naloxone through third party payors.”

Overdose signs include slow or no breathing, pale, ashy, cool skin, blue or gray lips or fingernails.  If you think someone might be overdosing, shake them or call their name.  You can also rub your knuckles hard down their chest bone to illicit a response.  If there is no response, call 911 immediately and then quickly practice rescue breathing until help arrives.  If you have naloxone, now is the time to administer it. Follow the directions on the Naloxone package.

In Washington state, anyone who might have or witness an overdose can legally have and administer naloxone. 

In May, Comprehensive Healthcare celebrated an open house of their new medicated assistance treatment (MAT) clinic in Yakima.  Facilities such as these help treat and prevent overdose by giving patients options for whole health treatment.  That means patients are not only treated with medication to curb their addiction but also given case management, therapy, and other assistance to lead productive lives in our communities.


About Comprehensive Healthcare

Celebrating 50 years as one of the largest behavioral health organizations in the state of Washington, Comprehensive Healthcare serves clients in seven counties throughout south-central Washington. Comprehensive Healthcare is a Joint Commission accredited organization, providing compassionate, individualized behavioral healthcare since 1972. As a non-profit organization, Comprehensive Healthcare is dedicated to delivering high quality, evidence-based services to individuals, families and organizations.