August 31, 2015 - As a symbol of condolence for International Overdose Awareness Day, flags were lowered to half-staff today at City Hall, and 37 t-shirts were displayed, to recognize each life lost in 2013 to an overdose.

Held annually on August 31, the goal of this day is to raise awareness about overdose, to reduce the stigma associated with substance use and drug related deaths, while acknowledging the impact overdose has on families, friends and communities. The event originated in Australia in 2000, and this is the first time it has been held in Thunder Bay.

"Given the substantial rise in overdose deaths in recent years, it is crucial for us to openly discuss the risks of overdose as well as prevention measures that are available," said Cynthia Olsen, Drug Strategy Coordinator. "The important aspect to today is that it is not just about the numbers, it's about people who are dying unnecessarily as most drug overdose deaths are preventable."

In Ontario, opioid-related overdose deaths have risen 463% from 2000 to 2013, and more people are now killed from an opioid overdose than are killed in motor vehicle collisions.

Calls-to action at the event included increasing the availability of naloxone, a life-saving medication that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system and has been used in Canada for more than 40 years. Barriers exist that prevent the medication from being dispensed to most Ontarians at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose.

"We are fortunate that we do have a take-home naloxone program here in Thunder Bay," said Rick Thompson, Chair for the Drug Strategy Harm Reduction Working Group. "Since the program launched in 2013, we have offered training in overdose response to 75 individuals and have distributed 60 kits with naloxone."

Another call to action was for the federal government to enact a 911 Good Samaritan Law. 

"Too often, witnesses to overdose fear repercussions from law enforcement, and the enactment of a Good Samaritan Law would remove the barriers to calling 911," added Olsen. "If someone sees an overdose taking place and calls 911, the more likely the person who is experiencing an overdose will survive."

For more information on the Superior and Thunder Bay Overdose Prevention Program (STOPP), call the Superior Points Harm Reduction Program at 625-8831 or the Street Nursing Program at 629-2157.

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Contact:       Cynthia Olsen, Drug Strategy Coordinator, 625-2942