Regardless of the choices people make, The Salvation Army stands ready to help them. In the midst of the reality of people losing their loved ones to overdoses, two questions present: why do people overdose, and what can we do? Long experience, clinical advice from medical authorities, and a growing body of research, point to the reality that drug use is often a coping mechanism. We need to help people come to grips with the things in life that drive them to ‘use’; the underlying causes.
Essentially, overdoses are the result of people struggling to cope with physical, emotional and spiritual pain. The motivations to use mind-altering substances are strengthened by the physical dependency and the changes in neural pathways that come from the use of substances such as opioids. Overdose represents a failure of our communities to reach out to those people who are battling substance use disorders, or who are in such dire circumstances that they believe that pushing themselves into oblivion is the best way to cope.
Sometimes, however, an OD is just a mistake (especially, for example, when elderly people get muddled with their medication). Sometimes it's a calculated (miscalculated) risk; sometimes it's unintentional (when a person thinks they are taking one substance when it's actually another, when they are buying on the street market, etc.).
What can we do? Professionally, The Salvation Army offers withdrawal and rehabilitation services to aid people in their fight to reclaim their lives. Our new national medication management policy now means that trained Salvation Army staff can access ‘Narcan’ (Naloxone), a drug that temporarily reverses opiod overdose (it is kept in the first aid box alongside epi-pens and Ventalin).
As a nation, we can reduce the harm done to people’s lives by drug use, through education and legislation, and a pragmatic recognition of the medical issues at play –and by choosing not to criminalise and stigmatise people in pain. Personally? We can tell loved ones and people we know who may be struggling with addiction or abusing substances that they are not alone and that there is hope. If you need advice or information about treatment options, please call 13 SALVOS (13 72 58) www.salvationarmy.org.au/en/Get-Assistance/Alcohol--Other-Drugs
Kathryn Wright is the Australia Southern Territorial Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) director.