A call to action on Overdose Awareness Day

Every August 31 on Overdose Awareness Day, we attempt to honor the lives lost that year to overdose

Guest ContributorAugust 31, 2018

A call to action on Overdose Awareness Day.

Conversations and healthy debate about issues facing our industry and the health care system are critical to addressing some of today’s challenges and opportunities. The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view.

In honor of Overdose Awareness Day, we are pleased to share a blog post from Jessica Hulsey Nickel, Founder and CEO of the Addiction Policy Forum.

Views represented here are those of the authors and may not reflect those of PhRMA.

Every August 31 on Overdose Awareness Day, we attempt to honor the lives lost that year to overdose. What do 72,000 lives look like? Try for a moment to imagine just one of them. Rewind the tape, stop picturing the person suffering in the late stages of their disease and start picturing your own child, niece or neighbor. Every one of these deaths is somebody’s child.

You never think addiction will come in and steal your child, sister or mom; you never expect this disease to take a member of your own family. But the disease of addiction is impacting families all across our country. This disease does not care who you voted for, what zip code you live in or what kind of car you drive.

That’s why we have to come together to solve this. For the most acute symptom of the disease – overdose – we must expand and ensure access to the opioid overdose reversal medication, naloxone. Naloxone will bring someone back to life, but it will not rebuild a life. We must support our emergency medicine providers to link these most vulnerable patients to treatment, and we must ensure that every evidence-based treatment is available, using all the tools in our toolbox to treat this illness.

We must support the children impacted by parental substance use disorder.  I was one of these children: Both of my parents struggled with heroin use disorder, which meant homelessness and foster care for my sister and me. We need to wrap these children up in the love and care they need, provide evidence-based early intervention and prevention resources to put an end to the cycle of addiction, neglect and despair.

We must challenge ourselves to have compassion. This patient population is rarely easy to work with. The addiction rewires your brain to believe the drug is essential to survival, the way a healthy brain seeks food and water. We must translate the brain science of this disease and develop new treatments with fewer side effects and better outcomes.

We need to provide our criminal justice system with the tools to rehabilitate those with substance use disorders, and take care of the first responders traumatized by day in and day out saving the lives of people who they only get to see on their worst days.

And most of all we need to elevate the voices of patients and families impacted by this disease, provide them with tools, hope and support, and refuse to continue to allow our friends and neighbors to walk through this nightmare alone. Half of all American adults are related to someone with this disease, and yet the stigma of addiction leads families to suffer in silence and patients to fear seeking help.

Overdose Awareness Day is a time to remember who we are fighting for, to turn the pain of our losses into fire in our bellies and reverse the tides of this deadly epidemic. These tragedies can be prevented. Together, with everyone at the table— Democrat and Republican, parent and physician, police officer and teacher—we will solve this.

Jessica Hulsey Nickel is the Founder and CEO of the Addiction Policy Forum, a national nonprofit organization that brings together each sector of the field, elevates awareness around addiction and implements a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice reform. Jessica’s 25-year career focusing on addiction comes from personal experience. Both her parents struggled with heroin addiction, which led to homelessness, foster care and eventually her mother’s incarceration, after which she was raised by her grandparents. Jessica began working in the field at 15 years old through a community anti-drug coalition in southern California. After graduating from Princeton University in 1998, she embarked on a career in the prevention, treatment, and criminal justice fields in Washington, DC.

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