On Friday, the 31st of August, cities around the US and, indeed, the world, will engage in events, demonstrations, and vigils in honor of those who have lost their lives to addiction. Initiated in 2001 at an Australian Salvation Army, International Overdose Awareness Day has become an annual, global event, aiming to prevent drug-related deaths while reducing the stigma around the epidemic. This year’s remembrance falls a little over a month after pop star Demi Lovato’s proclaimed relapse and return to rehab, an event that sparked national dialogue regarding the treatment and attitude toward those affected by addiction. Many were quick to profess support for Lovato amidst her struggle, yet such concern has been scarcely extended to other sufferers of the disease. For many students, this is a problem worth addressing.
The Florida Alligator: Layla Soboh acknowledges that support for those suffering from mental illness has "drastically risen in popularity," though she still believes even those who discuss the stigma are often the "very same people who contribute to the problem."
• Indeed awareness has risen, but understanding remains limited, as the disease rarely presents itself in a "socially acceptable" manner. "Because there aren’t physical symptoms, people have a hard time separating the disease from the personality"
• Soboho continues, stating that "if you reject people once they start to suffer from their disease, there’s no point in advocating against the stigma. You are the stigma."
• Soboh also believes millennials should hold themselves accountable for "the normalization" of mental illness. "You’re not depressed because you had one bad day. You’re not bipolar because your mood changed... Millennials’ eagerness to participate in a community that they don’t actually belong in detracts from those with real problems"
The Daily Iowan: The University of Iowa's Nichole Shaw comments further on this stigma, particularly on the ways in which Demi Lovato was able to avoid its effects.
• "Support doesn’t even happen to all other celebrities," Shaw writes. She recalls the fatal overdose of rapper Lil Peep as well as Eminem's 2007 overdose, noting that neither got "the same volume of respect as Lovato."
• For Shaw, this discrepancy brings to light a "double standard" regarding drug abuse. Despite its position as a disease, according to the American Medical Association, Shaw is left wondering "why we don’t treat people equally who are struggling with drug addiction?
• This attitude "needs to change." Alleviation of the disease requires "support and the breakdown of negative stigmas." She concludes, "people’s drug addiction doesn’t define them... So don’t hate them for it, help them.
The Colorado Collegian: Colorado State University has also taken a position on the epidemic currently plaguing the nation, the student body taking actionable steps to advance their allyship and eliminate the stigma.
• According to The Collegian, "the Associated Students of CSU Speaker of the Senate Isabel Brown partnered with Students For Opioid Solutions, a non-profit that works with student government associations across the country, in order to draft legislation aimed at overdose awareness and prevention on campus."
• In short, the steps taken by The Senate have pushed forward two landmarks. First, the primary drug that combats opioid overdose, Narcan, will be "free for students to pick up from the CSU Health Center Pharmacy." Additionally, the university will "include the number of opioid overdoses and deaths in its annual drug and alcohol report, beginning in the 2018-2019 school year."
• Brown gave a statement to the The Collegian, encouraging other student leaders to "join together and take a stand." She believes that "we are the generation that will, together, change how our campuses prevent opioid overdoses on campuses...setting a nationwide standard for this fight.”
The Bottom Line:
Addiction and drug-related death has skyrocketed, forging an increased, national concern along other facets of mental health, including depression, PTSD, and suicide; still, there persists a stigma and double-standard that precludes all victims from receiving the support they need. Whether an international pop star or a person struggling to find their next meal, an indiscriminate disease warrants equally sweeping support for its sufferers.