International Overdose Awareness Day

August 29, 2022

It’s estimated that about 21 per cent, or about 6 million Canadians, will struggle with addiction in their lifetime, and these statistics were only exacerbated over the pandemic.

International Overdose Awareness Day, recognized on August 31, is aimed to remember those who have died, reduce stigma around substance use, and acknowledge those who have been impacted by an overdose death.

Women’s College Hospital (WCH) provides several supports for people dealing with substance use issues and disorders, including services like the Substance Use Service (SUS) , the Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) clinic, and free naloxone overdose kits and training. WCH is also the hub for META:PHI, a provincial initiative that supports the delivery of integrated, effective and equitable care for people who use substances through advocacy, education, and mentorship.  

The SUS uses a holistic approach to assess and support people who use substances like alcohol, opioids, cocaine, benzodiazepines and cannabis. Appointments can be booked by a clinician or self-referral.

The RAAM clinic functions as a walk-in clinic for patients seeking urgent assistance with addiction or substance use. No referral is required. The clinic offers medication assisted treatment, counselling and referrals to community services.

To further reduce stigma around substance use and save lives, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a drug overdose.

Symptoms of a drug overdose can include:

  • Not moving/unable to be woken
  • Slow, shallow breathing or not breathing
  • Blue lips and nails
  • Choking, gurgling sounds
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Small pupils

If you notice someone who may be experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately and give them naloxone if you have a kit. Naloxone is a fast-acting medication that reverses the effects of an overdose from opioids such as heroin, fentanyl, methadone or morphine. Naloxone can be given as a nasal spray and can restore breathing within 2 to 5 minutes. Naloxone kits can be picked up through the SUS clinic, and at the Rexall pharmacy at WCH, free of charge, without a prescription. They are also available at many harm reduction agencies and other pharmacies.

If you or anyone you know may be experiencing substance use issues, the WCH clinics are a great resource. If you are a healthcare provider, the substance use clinic team is happy to act as resource for any patients who may need support.