International Overdose Awareness Day Takes Center Stage

International Overdose Awareness Day

More than 300 events in the U.S. alone are scheduled for this day of advocacy. Find one near you

By Alison Jones Webb

Since 2001, communities around the world have come together on Aug. 31—International Overdose Awareness Day—to remember and mourn loved ones lost to drug overdose, support grieving families and friends, raise awareness about drug overdose deaths and work to end the stigma of drug-related deaths. Some policymakers have joined the movement by formally proclaiming Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day for their constituents.

Over the years, the number of communities that hold marches, candlelight vigils and other events has grown. In 2021, people in at least 37 countries on six continents commemorated loss and demanded changes in drug policy to promote harm reduction and evidence-based drug policies.

Overdose Awareness Day Events

This year, community events around the U.S. will honor and grieve more than 107,000 people who died from drug overdose in 2021. Family members and friends will stand together to laugh, cry and tell their stories of heartbreak and love. Harm reductionists will hold free naloxone training and distribution. Advocates will express anger and outrage that deaths continue to rise, with slogans such as “Every Overdose Is Someone’s Child,” “Overdose Does Not Discriminate,” and “Every Overdose Death Is a Policy Failure!” Together, these people form an advocacy movement that joins researchers in sounding the alarm that the staggering number of deaths will only increase in future years. Lori Post, director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, warns of possible “explosive exponential growth” based on past numbers.

In Binghamton, N.Y., community members and the local organization Truth Pharm created a Trail of Truth advocacy event in 2016 and have continued the tradition every year. They put the faces and names of people lost on tombstones and marched to government offices to advocate for policy change to reduce the harm—including overdose deaths—caused by substance use. The tombstones were planted along a sidewalk, where family members and friends traced chalk images of their bodies and added art and messages honoring their lives.

This year on Sept. 24, Truth Pharm is taking it to the streets in Washington, DC, joining more than 70 other organizations to create a Trail of Truth with over 500 tombstones, march on the Capitol, and demand policy change at the national level. Individuals and organizations across the U.S. are invited to participate. More information is available here.

The Penington Institute

International Overdose Awareness Day is coordinated by the Penington Institute, a nonprofit in Melbourne, Australia. This year, 326 events in the U.S. are posted on the IOAD website. The organization says it’s likely there are many more unregistered events. People can participate virtually as well on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A special Instagram account is devoted to tributes to people who have died, and you can follow on social with the hashtag #IOAD2022.

To find an overdose awareness event near you, click here.

Photos: Penington Institute