International Overdose Awareness Day,* observed on August 31, is the world’s annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. The campaign acknowledges the profound grief felt by families and friends whose loved ones have died or suffered permanent injury from a drug overdose. Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message about the tragedy of drug overdose death and that drug overdose is preventable.
I couldn’t have predicted that I would be knowledgeable, let alone invested in, a day that brings awareness to death caused by drug overdose, but here I am. My 19-year-old son and only child died of an accidental drug overdose in January 2020. Zach was everything to me and his loss has had a profound impact on me…it has changed me and I have taken on a new purpose.
The opioid epidemic is real. One of the scariest things a parent can say is “not my child.” Let’s face it: it is not uncommon for teenagers or young people to experiment with substances at some point in their life. With that experimentation comes risk – risk of addiction, risk of an unintended or accidental overdose and potentially death. If kids do experiment, I can tell you they will not believe that any of these risks could possibly happen to them. Regrettably, the risks associated with opioid use have only increased due to the threat associated with drugs laced with fentanyl, a very potent opioid that substantially increases the risk of overdose.
My husband and I developed the Zachary Horton Foundation as a legacy to our son. Its mission is to break the stigma of addiction by offering love, hope and acceptance to individuals and families suffering from this disease. Our work focuses on providing education and outreach.
Part of this education – and a key message promoted on International Overdose Awareness Day – is that overdose death is preventable. There are actions all of us – friends, parents, family and community members – can do to help prevent an overdose.
- Know the signs of overdose. A person who is experiencing an overdose may show these symptoms:
- Unresponsive - does not respond to yelling, shaking, etc.
- Slow or not breathing
- Snoring or gurgling sounds
- Cold or clammy skin
- Discolored nails or lips
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. Remember that the Good Samaritan Law encourages individuals to seek medical care for an overdose victim by providing protection from drug violations.
From a parent's perspective, there are things you can do early and often to help reduce the risk of an overdose:
- Start the conversation with your kids early. Talk with them about the dangers of drugs and the pressures they may encounter to try them. Discuss any risk factors they may have, like a genetic history of addiction, mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression, or conditions that may put them at a higher risk of developing addiction.
- Carefully review any opioids prescribed to your kids. Opioids should only be used for acute pain. Once the pain subsides, you should discontinue the opioids as directed by your doctor.
- Dispose of all unused medication. Unused medications should always be dropped off at a safe disposal site, like the publicly available one at Valley Children’s Hospital. Read more about Valley Children’s Medication Disposal Bin here. Until you dispose of unused medication, keep it locked up and unavailable to your kids.
- Know how to use emergency rescue medications. Naloxone (Narcan), a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, can be lifesaving. Consider Narcan training so you will know how to use it to prevent an overdose.
Each and every one of us can play a part in ending overdose. From knowing the signs, seeking help, and starting the conversation with our kids, we can save lives by reducing stigma and choosing to seek hope and healing instead.
"And she loved a (not so) little boy very, very much,
even more than she loved herself."
- Shel Silverstein
About the Author
Lynn Horton is the Director of Patient Access at Valley Children's Healthcare. She and her husband founded the Zachary Horton Foundation in 2020 to honor and memory of their son. The Foundation aims to break the stigma of addiction by offering love, hope and acceptance to individuals and families suffering from this disease through education, outreach, support and scholarships.
* International Overdose Awareness Day is an initiative of the Penington Institute (see overdoseday.com for additional information).