International Overdose Awareness Day

By Humber River Hospital

August 31 is recognized as International Overdose Awareness Day- a global campaign aimed to raise awareness, end overdose, and acknowledge those affected and their families. Roberto Marra, an addiction counsellor at Humber River Hospital, has provided insight into the importance of getting involved and raising awareness on this prominent issue affecting more than one hundred thousand people annually in North America.

Roberto Marra

What is the most common overdose drug?

In recent years, the most common overdose drugs in North America are opioids. This includes prescription drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, and illegal drugs such as heroin. Many overdoses have occurred due to fentanyl present in other illegally purchased drugs.

What are the most common symptoms of an overdose?

An opioid overdose happens when an individual’s body cannot process the opioid quickly enough. Numerous signs may indicate that someone is experiencing an opioid overdose. As an overdose progresses, most will occur simultaneously. These signs would include:

  • Black/purplish lips or fingernails
  • Changes in skin tone to bluish/purplish due to lack of oxygen
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Gurgling, snorting, choking sounds (“death rattle”), vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking or walking
  • Losing consciousness
  • Slow or no heart rate
  • Slow or no breathing
  • Limp body
  • Pinpoint pupils

Why is International Overdose Awareness Day significant?

By building awareness of overdose and its effects, we could save lives, particularly through educating the most vulnerable and at-risk populations on the lethality of abusing drugs and harmful substances. By raising awareness, we can educate our communities on the harmful effects that alcohol may have as well. Establishing and executing educational initiatives can contribute to others making more informed and responsible decisions about substance use and their health.

There are many resources available to assist, making it imperative for people to understand how and where to access various supports.

What resources are available for those struggling with addiction?

We are fortunate to have numerous resource options for those struggling with chemical dependency or abuse.

These resources include, but are not limited to:

  • Long and short-term residential programs/treatment centers
  • Intensive outpatient day programs
  • Hospital and community-based withdrawal management services
  • Opiate replacement therapies via community-based clinics, hospitals, RAAM clinics and private doctors
  • Naloxone kits, which are readily available at pharmacies and can be administered by family or friends as an overdose is occurring
  • Safe injection or substance use sites where someone can have their drug use supervised and assisted as needed
  • Safe drug use kits, which are free and readily available at numerous community-based, harm reduction programs
  • Attending self-help groups such as NA, CA, AA, MA
  • Receiving support from a private addiction counsellor or psychotherapist
  • Receiving support from a trained physician who specializes in addiction services
  • Accessing community-based health care centers which offer a wide variety of addiction and mental health services and supports

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, visit for various resources.