By Bette Sharpe
Special to Independent Newsmedia
Glendale’s police chief joined with advocates of local nonprofits and businesses last month for an International Overdose Awareness Day vigil.
Four people in Arizona die every day from an opioid drug overdose. Every eight minutes someone in the United States loses a loved one to drug overdose leaving broken families suffering in pain and silence. The stigma of addiction keeps many drug users living in the dark and the charities involved in the event wanted to show those struggling from addiction they are not alone.
The event was the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day Candlelight Vigil held by Aurora Behavioral Health System. Aurora, Addiction Haven, and Sonoran Prevention Works collaborated to host event Friday evening Aug. 31 at Aurora Behavioral Health-West gymnasium, 6015 W Peoria Ave., Glendale.
Speakers included Glendale Chief of Police Rick St. John, Mariah Hile, director of business development at Aurora Behavioral Health; Angie Geren, executive director of Addiction Haven; Sarah Fynmore, policy coordinator at Sonoran Prevention Works; Whitney O’Brien and Nick Jensen, who each lost brothers to overdoses, and CVS pharmacist Muannad Dalbik. The event also included refreshments an open share time for the community.
Anyone who has lost a loved one due to an overdose or with a loved one currently struggling with addiction were welcome to join and share their stories, supporting each other and honoring those who have died in an atmosphere free of shame and judgement.
“My most favorite people in this world have died from an overdose,” said Ms. Hile. “Those memories have stayed with her and fueled her passion to do more.”
Ms. O’Brien and Mr. Jensen remembered the brothers they lost to drug overdoses.
“I will tell your story. I will say your name,” Ms. O’Brien said about her late brother.
Both spoke openly and unapologetically about the brothers they loved and miss. There was no indication of shame in their voices, but there was emotion and love as they remembered happier times.
Mr. St. John remember a 16-year-old girl who lived across the street from him who started using pain killers to get high. When that become too expensive she started to use heroin. It took a year in former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s tent city outdoor jail for her to get clean. She has stayed clean since then, as far as he knows.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include illegal drugs like heroin as well as legal prescription pain relievers. Opioids act on parts of the brain that control pain. They also affect the areas of the brain that control breathing. During an opioid overdose breathing can slow or stop, which can cause loss of consciousness, coma or death, according to Addiction Policy Forum.
Women may become dependent of prescription pain relievers more quickly than men, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Senior citizens can also fall victim to addiction and overdose. Drug sharing is often a problem when pain killers from procedures such as an old knee or hip injury are shared or sold to someone else.
For those who fear a loved one may be in danger of an overdose, there is a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses. Naloxone has three forms approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — two that are injected and one nasal spray.
Naxolone is available without a prescription in 48 states, including Arizona. Naloxone, also known as NARCAN, is a safe and effective antidote to opioid overdoses. CVS Pharmacy locations in most communities have naloxone on hand and can dispense it the same day or ordered for the next business day. The drug is also available at select Walgreens Pharmacies. For more information on Naxolone, including where to find it, click here.
The drug will be covered by insurance in some cases. The nasal spray costs about $110 and the injection costs about $40.
For more information about the organizations fighting against opioid addiction in Arizona, click the links below:
About International Overdose Awareness Day
International Overdose Awareness Day was initiated in 2001 by Sally J. Finn at The Salvation Army in St. Kilda, a city near Melbourne, Australia.
Since 2001, many community members as well as government and non-government organizations have held events to raise awareness and commemorate those who have been lost to drug overdose.
Since 2012, International Overdose Awareness Day has been coordinated by the nonprofit Australian public health organization Penington Institute.