Various dates are set aside throughout the year to bring awareness to that which is good, or bad, for society. Aug. 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day, which intends to educate the public about the problem, remember the lives of people lost, reduce the stigma that surrounds drug-related deaths and substance misuse, and promote prevention efforts.
In reading about it, we learned some startling information. Absent COVID, the top 10 causes of death in the United States are heart disease, which annually kills 659,041 Americans; cancer, 599,601; accidents, 173,040; chronic lower respiratory diseases, 156,979; stroke, 150,005; Alzheimer’s, 121,499; diabetes, 87,647; nephritis, 51,565; influenza and pneumonia, 49,783; and suicide, 47,511.
We say that some of these causes of deaths such as heart disease, cancer and stroke are unpreventable although that’s not precisely true because how you treat your body has much to do with your risk of dying from these diseases. But there are some things we can prevent.
Take a closer look at the third leading cause of death — accidents. Included in that general category are drug overdoses, and they are the leading cause of accidental deaths, killing about 65,000 people annually. Other causes of accidental deaths are motor vehicle accidents, 40,231; falls, 36,338; choking, 5,216; drowning, 3,709; fire, 2,812; suffocation, 1,730; and extreme heat or cold, 1,269.
We were taken aback at how many die annually from drug overdoses — half again as many who die in motor vehicle accidents. Think about that number for a second: 65,000 people. It’s far more than the entire population of Kingsport.
In Tennessee alone, more than 3,000 died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But what’s more staggering is that it’s up by about 1,000 victims from the previous year. Quite clearly, drug overdoses are out of control in Tennessee and nationwide.
But they don’t have to be. They’re completely preventable, says Jane Henry, chair of AveNew: the United Way of Greater Kingsport’s drug education and prevention initiative.
“Addressing the addiction and opioid epidemic continues to be an urgent issue facing our region,” Henry said. “We believe that only by working together can we effect positive change.”
Local United Way representatives and volunteers and Kingsport and Sullivan County officials were on hand at the Kingsport Farmers Market to recognize Overdose Awareness Day. They learned the story of Michelle Donaldson, a former addict.
“My husband and I suffered from addiction for 13 years. We lost homes, vehicles, family and friends, and most of all we lost ourselves with addiction,” Donaldson said.
Three years ago, Donaldson was on her way to work while her husband was on the way to get their drugs for the day. When she came home from work, Donaldson found her husband’s body cold and lifeless. No one was there in time to save him.
“The stigma and shame for asking for help and getting medically assisted treatment stopped us from getting the help and treatment we needed,” Donaldson said. “The day before he overdosed, he called the clinic to see about getting us in and getting help.”
Thankfully, Donaldson was able to get into recovery and get the medically assisted treatment she needed to work through her addiction, her grief and other issues.
“It starts with all of us and not telling people they need help, but rather offering people help.”
To learn more about overdoses, hear stories of recovery and prevention from across the state, and connect with events and resources, visit tntogether.com/ioad. Call or text the TN REDLINE at (800) 889-9789 for a free referral to addiction treatment services and linkage to community-based overdose prevention resources.