Addiction is an issue that has been around for decades. But since the arrival of COVID-19, substance abuse rates have soared in the U.S., with 13 percent of Americans reporting an increase in drug or alcohol use. This surge has been linked to the stress, fear and uncertainty of the pandemic and shows no signs of stopping. The situation is intensified by social isolation, economic strain and less access to high-quality facilities or providers, making it harder for people to get the help they need.
Unfortunately, overdoses have spiked as well. Amid the reported rise in drug use, some states have seen a whopping 30 to 40 percent increase in overdose-related deaths. More than 93,000 Americans succumbed to an overdose in 2020, with men making up nearly 70 percent of this statistic. This trend appears to be continuing into 2021.
At Choice House, we want to address the problem of increasing overdoses among men. No one should have to lose a friend or family member in this way and deal with the stigma that comes with it. August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, so we take this opportunity to bring attention to the impact of overdose and support those who have been affected.
What is International Overdose Awareness Day?
Overdose rates began to rise in the 1990s as doctors prescribed opioids for everything from toothaches to back pain, getting patients hooked on a dangerous substance. In response, The Salvation Army’s Sally J. Finn created International Overdose Awareness Day, hoping to highlight the impact of overdose-related deaths and reduce the harms associated with drug use. Another goal was to minimize public stigma and apathy aimed at victims and their families, facilitating more compassion, support and understanding within communities.
At Choice House, we commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day to acknowledge the grief of those who have lost a friend or family member and let them know their loved one was valued. This day is also important to help promote a better understanding of overdose, why it happens and how it can be prevented. Although International Overdose Awareness Day occurs on August 31, practicing harm reduction throughout the year and continuing to eliminate the stigma associated with drug use can improve outreach in communities and help more men find hope and healing from addiction.
Why Are More Men Overdosing?
Statistics show that more men are dying from overdoses than any other demographic. Compared to women, men have seen a sharp incline in overdose-related deaths since 2014, with males between the ages of 25 and 54 being the most affected. But why is this?
According to years of research, men are more likely than women to abuse drugs or alcohol in the first place and start doing so at a younger age. This is likely due to factors such as peer pressure, risk-taking behavior, easier access to illicit substances and less stigma associated with using them. Experts now think traditional gender roles and toxic masculinity may also play a role, as some men might be more inclined to cope with difficult emotions by getting high rather than seeking help from a professional.
Whatever the reason, higher rates of drug use among men have led to more overdoses. Opioids like fentanyl, painkillers and heroin are common culprits, but alcohol, stimulants and other prescription drugs have also been implicated. Fentanyl is linked to a growing number of overdose-related deaths as it becomes more common in heroin and counterfeit pills, putting countless men at risk as they unknowingly ingest this substance. Polydrug use among men has also increased the risk of overdose due to dangerous drug interactions, particularly among opioids, alcohol and benzodiazepines.
What Can We Do About This?
We know that more men are dying of overdoses than ever before. And we think we know why. So what can we do about it?
That’s the question International Overdose Awareness wants you to ask. Whether you’re in recovery yourself or have a loved one struggling with addiction, acknowledging the impact of overdose and how we can prevent these tragic deaths is the first step to changing the statistics. At Choice House, our goal is to reduce drug-related harm in our communities by promoting awareness, increasing access to high-quality treatment programs and giving men the support they need to stay safe.
But overdose awareness isn’t something that should happen just once a year. It should be a priority every single day for both current and former drug users and their loved ones. By openly discussing the issues and risks associated with addiction, and supporting the struggles of those affected, we can help eliminate the stigma and make it easier for families to acknowledge and overcome their grief.
This mindset is also a reminder that mental and behavioral health are essential to our general well-being, and evidence-based practices — like individualized treatment plans, overdose education and naloxone distribution — work. Together, we can help to spread the message that recovery is possible and work to end these preventable deaths.
Other ways that both treatment providers and individuals can continue to promote overdose awareness throughout the year include:
- Having an open and honest discussion about addiction, relapse and overdose
- Educating yourself and others about the risks of overdose
- Promoting harm-reduction practices
- Increasing access to life-saving naloxone (Narcan)
- Providing more accessible and affordable treatment options for a varied demographic
- Utilizing gender-specific programs to help men achieve lasting recovery
- Practicing relapse prevention strategies
Working Together to End Overdose
International Overdose Awareness Day is about paying tribute to those we’ve lost and giving families a safe environment to mourn their loved ones, but it also seeks to end overdose by promoting partnerships between first responders, law enforcement, health care workers and recovering addicts. Each day, these people are on the frontlines and more likely to interact with drug users or witness an overdose, putting them in a position to make a real difference. By working together, we can combine resources and help increase the reach of vital, life-saving services.
Increased collaboration can also encourage more treatment providers to adopt evidence-based strategies that have been shown to improve client outcomes. Choice House’s gender-specific programs do this by addressing issues relevant to men, encouraging peer support and providing a more comfortable, engaging environment that’s free from distractions. We also promote overdose awareness throughout the year and incorporate other proven strategies into our treatment models, such as chemical dependency education, relapse prevention, outdoor adventure therapy and dual diagnosis care. By tailoring our programs to the unique needs of men, we can help them get sober and stay clean long after rehab, avoiding relapse and minimizing the risk of overdose.
On August 31, take a moment to remember those who have lost their lives to addiction. You can continue to make a difference each day by having open, honest conversations about overdose and educating yourself and others about the risk factors. Every step, no matter how small, helps to end the stigma and promote hope and healing for those affected. To learn more about Choice House and how our treatment programs for men are helping to prevent overdose-related deaths, contact or call us today at (303) 578-4981.