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International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global campaign that works towards preventing overdose, reducing the stigma associated with it, and providing support to families and loved ones of overdose victims. The unofficial awareness day is observed every year on August 31.

Woman alone on a swing.

Substance dependence and overdose can be devastating to families and communities.

©bigstockphoto.com/AntonioGuillem

The day was established in 2001 by Australians Sally J. Finn and Peter Streker as a way to commemorate those who have lost their lives to overdose, and to support the loved ones whose lives have been affected by drug abuse.

Since 2012, the responsibility of organizing International Overdose Awareness Day has been taken over by the Penington Institute, an Australian non-profit health organization. Despite its Australian roots, the day is now observed all over the world.

Recognizing Symptoms of Overdose

Medical professionals define overdose as the accidental or intentional use of a drug or a substance such as alcohol or a narcotic beyond the recommended dosage. An overdose can have serious consequences, with effects ranging from mild disorientation to seizures, brain injury, and death.

Part of International Overdose Awareness Day's agenda is to spread information about how to detect signs of substance abuse and overdose, and what to do when encountering a person who may be having an adverse reaction to a drug. Disorientation, agitation, difficulty in breathing, and vomiting can be signs of overdose and should not be ignored.

A Global Problem

Overdose is an increasing global problem. A 2014 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that about 183,000 people succumb to overdose around the world every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an American public health organization, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.

A vast majority of overdose deaths occur due to opioid abuse. Opioids are a class of drugs that reduce the intensity of pain by interacting with proteins called opioids found in the human brain, spinal cord, and other organs. Opiates include illegal substances like heroin, as well as legally prescribed medication such as oxycodone, codeine, and morphine.

Serious Consequences

Overdose is not the only consequence of drug dependence. In many parts of the world, the shared use of needles and drug injecting equipment can make users vulnerable to hepatitis C and HIV. According to UNODC, an estimated 13% of all drug users globally live with HIV.

Drug trafficking and drug-related illnesses and crimes can also negatively affect families and communities. One of the main purposes of International Overdose Awareness Day is to help reduce the stigma surrounding overdose by talking about it and by bringing attention to the fact that substance abuse and drug overdose is preventable.

What Happens on International Overdose Awareness Day?

International Overdose Awareness Day is not an official holiday, so businesses, schools, and government offices are open. Community health groups, needle exchange organizations, educators, medical professionals, and policy-makers organize outreach drives, conferences, and workshops to bring attention to the growing problem of overdose. They also provide information to the general public about how to identify substance dependence and overdose.

People are encouraged to wear silver badges to show their support for overdose awareness.

International Overdose Awareness Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015MonAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2016WedAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2017ThuAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2018FriAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2019SatAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2020MonAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2021TueAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2022WedAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2023ThuAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2024SatAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance
2025SunAug 31International Overdose Awareness DayWorldwide observance

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