International Overdose Awareness Day: Taking Action Towards Overdose Prevention

Image of Dr. Jennifer Wyman

Overdose is preventable, and yet, over 7300 Canadians died of drug toxicity in 2022.

On August 31, Women’s College Hospital (WCH) recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), a day to remember and mourn those we’ve lost and raise overdose awareness and support for those at risk.

Dr. Jennifer Wyman, who is an addictions specialist and the program lead of the Substance Use Service (SUS) here at Women’s, reflects on the importance of IOAD and what it means to continue to support users and their loved ones to ensure overdose is acknowledged and avoided.

“IOAD is an opportunity for us to pause and recall the patients and clients we have worked with who have died due to the toxic drug crisis. We also reflect on how precarious life can be for individuals we work with,” shares Dr. Wyman. “On IOAD, we know that we stand alongside many other professionals and organizations who are all striving to make life safer and care more accessible for people who use drugs.”

WCH’s Substance Use Service

Overdose prevention and harm reduction can appear in many forms, and our SUS builds that into the foundation of its care. The dedicated addictions team takes a trauma-informed approach in providing non-judgmental assistance to those most at risk of overdose, and those who are seeking support regarding their substance use.

Our team delivers a range of services including an initial assessment to help us understand how best to support one’ recovery process. They’ll review a broad variety of treatment options, such as counselling and group support, harm reduction education and supplies, withdrawal management, and referrals to long-term programs.

“Just like some people respond better to one type of blood pressure medication or a specific anti-depressant, people who use drugs have different experiences with treatment medications. They also have different health conditions and experiences with the medical system.” Says Dr. Wyman. “Expecting everyone to respond the same way to a given treatment or provider is not realistic or patient centered.”

The SUS receives intake for anyone 16 and over, by referral from a physician or by walk-in at our Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Clinic at 76 Grenville Street.

How to Help

Loved ones of substance users can support them by training on how to properly identify overdose and administer naloxone and carrying naloxone on them. Also, by becoming more familiar with harm reduction practices and contributing to reducing stigma around drug use – stigma can be what keeps someone from reaching out for help when it’s needed.

“We need to check our biases and recognize how stigma towards people who use drugs can affect our language, tone, attitudes and expectations,” says Dr. Wyman. “To extend the analogy of other medical conditions, we don’t expect people to be cured of their high blood pressure or diabetes; we hope that with medication as well as ‘lifestyle’ changes they will achieve their target numbers.”

What we Offer

The SUS sees people who are seeking information or support related to all types of substance use like opioids, alcohol, stimulants, benzodiazepines and cannabis – patients can self-refer. Our RAAM clinic is available on a drop-in basis Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings; no appointments are required. Our team provides psychosocial support, medications, connection to community resources, and referral to other programs when appropriate. We welcome referrals from our WCH colleagues and are happy to discuss scenarios as well.

If you or someone you love is seeking to change their relationship with substance use, the WCH Substance Use Service is available and ready to connect you with the resources you need to keep yourself safe.

Dr. Wyman adds, “With respect to people who use drugs, we should be mindful of our expectations and support people in meeting their goals, whether that is employment, family togetherness, safer substance use or abstinence.”