Blog: International Overdose Awareness Day 

August 31, 2022

By Amanda Labonte

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global annual event to reduce stigma, recognize the grief of loved ones and ultimately work to end overdose. (1) Globally in 2019 approximately 62 million people used opioids for non-medical reasons, with a drastic increase of death from overdose in North America. (2) In 2021, Alberta saw 1,618 overdose deaths with 620 of those in Edmonton and from January to May 2022. Alberta has seen 683 overdose deaths with 256 of those in Edmonton. (3) 

Stigma, bias, and stereotypes around overdose or death by drug poisoning, continues to be an issue. Addiction is complex and not a choice. (4) People who use substances and experience negative attitudes and exclusionary behaviours from the public are less likely to reach out for help. (4) It is important to recognize that people who are or who have used drugs are valued members of our communities (1) and they deserve compassion, respect, and to be seen as people first. (4) 

For family and friends of people who have died from drug poisoning, the grief can be difficult and isolating to process due to the societal stigmas around drug use. (1) Organizations like Healing Hearts Canada provide a space for people to grieve and gain support. Part of the focus of International Overdose Awareness Day is to raise awareness for those people who are grieving so they can do so publicly, without shame or guilt. (1)  

What Can I Do to Help? 

Drug poisoning happens in all communities. Whether you know of someone who uses substances or are someone who uses them, there are ways that you can help prevent drug poisoning. Most poisonings happen when a person is using alone. (5) Tell someone if you are going to use, go to a supervised consumption site or don’t use alone. Check in on others who use substances. You can carry a naloxone kit; they are free, and you can get one here. For other ways to be prepared and to help prevent drug poisoning read the Alberta Health Services Overdose Prevention Pamphlet. 

How to recognize drug poisoning?  

The Alberta Health Services website lists the following signs and symptoms of drug poisoning:  

  • Slow or no breathing 
  • Unresponsive to voice or pain (can’t wake them up) 
  • Pale face 
  • Blue lips or nails 
  • Gurgling or snoring sounds 
  • Choking or vomiting 
  • Cold and damp skin 
  • Narrow (tiny) pupils 
  • Stiff body or seizure-like movement

Resources and Supports  

If you or someone you care about is struggling with their mental health, addiction or substance use, there is help. Here is a list of resources:  

Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-303-2642 (toll free) 

Access 24/7

Mental Health Helpline

Alberta’s Virtual Opioid Dependency Program

AHS Opioid Dependency Program
Mobile Team: 780-342-7810 


  1. Pennington Institute. (2022). About the campaign. 
  2. Government of Alberta. (2022). Acute substance deaths overview. Alberta Substance Use Surveillance System.
  3. United Nations Office on Drug and Crime. (2021). World drug report 2021.
  4. Government of Canada. (2022). Stigma around drug use.
  5. City of Edmonton. (2022). Drug poisoning (overdose) prevention.
  6. Alberta Health Services. (2022). We can’t ignore opioids. 

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Capacity Building Coordinator

Related categories: Blog: Miscellaneous
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