Today, the Women’s Center and University Health Services will host an Overdose Response Training. The training is run by the Baltimore City Health Department and it teaches individuals how to respond to opioid overdose and gives them the tools needed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. Each attendee will be certified to administer Naloxone (or Narcan) and receive a prescription card for a Naloxone kit.
Is opioid overdose really that big of a deal?
Unfortunately, yes. Opioid use, whether prescription or otherwise, has skyrocketed in the US over the last few years, especially in Baltimore City. In the year 2015, 748 people died of heroin overdose and 351 people died of prescription opioid overdose in Baltimore City. That’s 1,099 deaths, not including overdoses which did not result in death.
Okay so it’s a big deal but like…why is the Women’s Center concerned about it?
Addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues. According to the CDC, LGBTQ populations are significantly more likely to engage in substance use– 20 to 30 percent compared to about 9 percent of the general populations. Women are more likely than men to be addicted to prescription painkillers, and people living in poverty are significantly more likely to be addicted to opiates. Although the rate of opioid use has not dramatically increased for people of color (as opposed to whites), this is not due to lack of use, but due to underprescription of opioid pain medication for people of color. Often, doctors underestimate and undertreat the pain experienced by people of color. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the communities we serve.
Wait, what do you mean when you say addiction and substance abuse are social justice issues?
There are several social and structural factors which contribute to substance use. Populations who lack access to healthcare may turn to illicit substances as a way of managing pain, stress, or mental health issues. These are the same populations which are unable to afford recovery programs or end up in prison instead of treatment.
One of the major factors contributing to the disproportionate rate of substance abuse among LGBTQ populations is the concept of minority stress. Minority stress is the idea that “sexual minority health disparities can be explained in large part by stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization and may ultimately impact access to care.” This concept can apply to racial issues as well as issues of poverty, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Basically, the stress of experiencing discrimination, harassment, violence, housing and job insecurity, poverty, and a general sense of social stigma and isolation drives people to self-medicate, which, can result in addiction. Addiction and substance use are a direct result of policy and social dynamics.
Whoa, okay, it sounds like this issue is way bigger than training a few people on overdose response.
You’re right, there’s a lot of factors at play here. Ultimately, overdose deaths will only go down when we fix the major issues that cause substance abuse in the first place.
But while we work on all of that, overdose response is part of an approach called harm reduction. Harm reduction is based on the idea that people who use drugs are people and the best way to reduce the harm that comes to those people is to meet them where they’re at and with compassion. According to Harm Reduction International, “Harm Reduction refers to policies, program
s and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families and the community.” Harm reduction understands all the factors that contribute to substance abuse and rejects the idea that drug users are good or bad. It focuses instead on making sure that people have what they need and are supported as human beings.
Harm reduction focuses on the things people need right now. A person can’t get help if they’re dead, and overdose response can prevent that from happening.
Can’t we just make drugs illegal?
Short answer? Nope.
Most drugs are already illegal, but that obviously doesn’t stop people from using them. In fact, laws are huge barriers which prevent people from seeking or receiving treatment. Many people are afraid of being arrested or institutionalized for seeking help for drug addiction. Many people are arrested for substance use and go to prison instead of rehab, or only receive treatment while in jail. Besides, laws don’t change the social factors that cause people to use drugs in the first place.
Okay, so who should attend an Overdose Response Training?
Well, it’s sort of like CPR. Knowing how to do it and having the tools can save a life, so everyone should do it.
Anyone who is likely to work with opioid users (like people who work with the general public, in medicine, or with homeless and LGBTQ populations) should be trained. That means if you’re a social worker, someone who works in a hospital or medical facility, a campus RA, a health educator, or a volunteer, this training is for you.
If you know someone in your personal life who uses opioids, or if you are part of an at-risk community, this training is also for you.
If you don’t have any of these experiences, this training is still for you. Opioid use (and overdose) occurs frequently and everywhere. Frankly, everyone and anyone should receive this free training.
Where can I learn more?