31 August 2017
At 19 a friend of mine died of a drugs overdose. He had been a victim of domestic abuse and had left home and become dependant on substances. I was one of the few people he turned to for help prior to his death. The question “could more have been done?” has remained with me, as with other tragic stories that live with us all who work in substance misuse treatment services. It is a question we all ask when assessing the risks of young people we work with.
Nationally, drug use by young people has declined, but for those that misuse substances the risk of overdose has not disappeared. Whilst opiate use has reduced, other substances such as NPS – New Psychoactive Substances (formally known as legal highs) present particular high levels of risk due to their potency. We have also seen an increased prevalence of illicit use of prescribed medication such as Benzodiazepines. Other drugs, such as Cocaine and MDMA are reported in higher levels of strength. Drugs, particularly depressants – or any combination of drugs when used together including use with alcohol, present an increased risk of overdose.
Experimental or binge use of any drug can lead to a fatal overdose. Whilst many young people experimenting with drugs avoid harm this is often more down to luck than having a sound knowledge of the risks that they face. Young People may think they know the risks but in fact they often misunderstand what these risks are.
So the answer to the question- “is there more we can do?” – is yes. Had I known how to support my friend at the time, maybe I could have made a difference.
All of us who work with young people can do more; in education, criminal justice, social care, or any role in which we talk to young people and families, we have the opportunity to ask the right questions. Rather than using scare stories, we can engage young people and have meaningful conversations which raise awareness, knowledge and confidence, encouraging young people to make healthy choices. We can support them to access information, advice and specialist support when needed. We can make sure we talk to young people about their problems and what they are doing; when they are going to a party, festival or event where they are using alcohol or drugs about how to keep themselves and each other safe. We can build strong partnerships with local drug services and help build confidence in young people when accessing the support they need.
By building the resilience of young people, we can reduce the risk of overdose.
International Overdose Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Overdose Awareness Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable.
Catch22 Surrey Young People’s Substance Misuse Service is joining local adult treatment providers at the Needle Exchange to support International Overdose Awareness Day.
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