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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Rethink. Remember.

August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. 

Over the past few months, the issue of fatal drug overdose has come to the forefront of public discussion. We’ve heard news reports of young concert-goers dying from unknown “party drugs” and a recent Ontario-based study showed that among people aged 25 to 34, one of every eight deaths is related to opioids like OxyContin and codeine. In July, Health Minister Rona Ambrose announced the intent to set tamper-resistant standards for all opioids in an effort to curb the number of opioid-related deaths.

CAMH nurses Bonnie Cheuk (left) and Emily Katz support clients through the Addiction Medicine Service
CAMH nurses Bonnie Cheuk (left) and Emily Katz support clients through the Addiction Medicine Service

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is an annual global event held on August 31 that aims to raise awareness of the risks of overdose and prevent drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or suffered permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.

Bonnie Cheuk and Emily Katz are nurses in the Addiction Medicine Service (AMS) at CAMH. They provide case management for clients taking medication for dependence on alcohol, opioids and/or benzodiazepines. Of the people they see, the risk of overdose is highest among people who struggle with opioid dependence, they say.

“So much of overdose prevention is about the surrounding education,” says Bonnie, “especially with this clientele who are so stigmatized in healthcare and in broader society.  We need to be able build therapeutic alliances so we can provide an opportunity for people to succeed.”

Emily agrees. “We provide education about the detox process, tolerance changes and help stabilize people who are in crisis,” she says.

While much of their work focuses on medication compliance and connecting clients with supportive resources, harm reduction also comes into play.  The AMS carries harm reduction supplies like crack kits, clean needles, sterile water, and filters that CAMH clients can access confidentially. 

In addition to these supplies, developing meaningful relationships with clients provides another safety net that helps reduce the risk of overdose. “I’d rather people be unstable but here rather than on their own,” Emily says.

How to mark IOAD:

  • You can participate in IOAD by wearing silver on August 31 and by following CAMH on Facebook and Twitter over the next few days. 

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