For this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), we ran an online Photovoice campaign. We put out a call to our International Working Group Members (IWGs), our supporters, and partner organizations for a photo that displays the story of why this global day is important to them, along with a story to explain. We received photos and stories from all over the world, truly representing Youth Rise’s global reach and membership, they were received from Pakistan, Nigeria, Ireland, the USA, and Nepal.

We also posted our Statement for IOAD, which you can read here. If you want to show some support for these stories then feel free to check them out where they were originally posted, on our social media pages (Instagram: @weareyouthrise, Twitter: @youthRISE and Facebook: @YouthRISE), but keep scrolling to read them here!

Kelly’s Story, USA

“Last November, I was driving down the road. The sun had just come up, and I was heading to start my work day. At an intersection, I saw a group of people surrounding a car. Suddenly, the car jolted forward. I drove off the road to avoid collision, and the car crashed into the car in front of me, only grazing my car. When I got out of my car, a man was being pulled out of his car and laid on the ground right in front of me. The man was overdosing. Fortunately, the accident occurred right across the street from a fire station. Two firefighters rushed to the scene and promptly administered two doses of naloxone, saving his life.

As soon as he was conscious, the police were there to arrest him. Though the choice to drive while intoxicated was irresponsible, the choice to arrest him directly after his overdose didn’t sit right with me. Nor did the call I got from the police to testify in court. Situations such as this highlight the continued importance of International Overdose Awareness Day. Despite the United States overdose crisis, folks are stigmatized for using injectable drugs, leaving some to resort to use alone or sometimes in potentially unsafe circumstances.

Overdoses are preventable. Deaths from overdoses are preventable. Instead of punishing folks for their use, we need to focus on prevention. By providing the right tools and education, we can save lives. The man in the accident was revived with naloxone, and countless other lives can be saved too by learning harm reduction practices, by having access to clean supplies, and by being able to trust and confide in medical practitioners. International Overdose Awareness Day brings these issues to light and by raising awareness we can save lives.”

Ronan’s Story, Ireland

“Dublin’s boardwalks are situated on the banks of the River Liffey in the city centre. Since their installation they have experienced a high volume of drug activity. Ireland has a serious issue with overdosing and on International Overdose Awareness Day I hope to highlight the issue so that people become more aware and understanding of the hardships facing people who use drugs.

In 2018 Ireland had the fourth highest number of drug related deaths in the EU, and currently in Ireland one person a day dies from a drug overdose. The rates of drug overdoses and death due to overdose in Ireland (particularly Dublin) is alarming.

Minutes away from this boardwalk is the proposed site for Ireland’s first Medically Supervised Injection Facility. This Centre would offer aid to service users in dealing with their addiction and dramatically reduce overdoses in the city. Highlighting and tackling drug overdoses in Dublin and the whole of Ireland is vitally important to help reduce occurrences of overdoses and most of all to save lives.”

Sandeep’s Story, Nepal

“There are an estimated 27,567 men and 3,301 women who inject drugs in Nepal. Despite a significant decline in HIV prevalence since the early 2000s, it is still above 8% in some areas. High coverage of PWID with harm reduction interventions (including needle and syringe programming) has contributed to high, consistent use of sterile injecting equipment, as indicated by the IBBS (above 95%). However, the OST program, considered a key component of effective harm reduction, has been challenged by low enrolment and retention; the need for daily visits is a key barrier. Satellite or mobile units and take-home doses for stable clients (in line with WHO guidelines) are planned to address this but will require strong coordination and support from all stakeholders.

Younger people who inject drugs have also reported a lack of youth-friendly services as a barrier. There is still a need to emphasize gender- and youth-responsive interventions, including sensitizing both health-facility and community based providers to the needs of women, young people and people with intersecting vulnerabilities. Also, there is no easy access of naloxone and the available naloxone providers in 13 OST sites of Nepal are not trained or provided any training regarding the use of naloxone to existing service providers. The issue of lack of naloxone is still not taken seriously and overdose management programs are hardly visible, whereas there is still no any availability of naloxone in Needle Syringe Exchange Program all over Nepal. It is essential that overdose management programs are provided as there is high rates of polydrug use among OST clients, and only 804 clients receiving OST services all over the Nepal.”

Maqbool, Ujala Welfare Organization, Pakistan

Maqbool is one of our IWGs, and he and his team at Ujala Welfare Organization sent us photos they took prior to IOAD to be posted online as part of this campaign.

Róisín’s Story, Ireland

“In a country where alcohol has become part of our culture and identity, it can be difficult to grasp the reality of how alcohol overdose is often overlooked on a day like today. However, for my family and I that will not be the case. For generations of Irish people, alcohol dependency/addiction or overdose was clouded in shame, a shame that unfortunately is still somewhat prevalent today. But if anything, these statistics show that alcohol dependency and overdose is still a very shocking and relevant health issue today. And let me reiterate… A health issue.

How many lives must be lost? How many people have to endlessly suffer from addiction because reasonable health resources aren’t there? How many families have to endure watching the ones the love fall victim to the disease and have nowhere to turn to for help? People need to be helped, not punished. To feel encouraged, not ashamed. To be cared for, not chastised. For I believe in the good of people and in the power of mankind, to help each other rise from the despair we may face.”

Seyi’s Story, Nigeria

“Rush him to the Hospital!” some screamed while others poured water in an attempt to revive him amidst the chaos. That was the situation at the bunk the day Rilwan overdosed on Tramadol. One of the outreach workers had gone to the community for mobile ART refill and met a crowd round the body of one of the drug users she had interacted with in the past. Rilwan was juggling between menial jobs to feed and survive. He became dependent on Tramadol to treat pain and cope with his hectic lifestyle. As his body lay on the floor and efforts were made to rush Rilwan to a nearby medical facility, she thought to herself  “…But Naloxone could have saved him!!”.

Drug overdose is one of the major risks faced by People who use drugs. Fortunately, overdose and death from overdose are preventable with the implementation of comprehensive harm reduction services which includes community provision of Naloxone. Drug policies need to stop focusing on criminalization and begin to prioritize public health. People who use drugs should not be denied their right to health. Harm Reduction truly saves lives.”