International Overdose Awareness Day brings mental health and addiction services together

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Posted at 10:10 PM, Aug 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-01 12:20:28-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On International Overdose Awareness Day, we remember the many lives lost to the deadly epidemic and those still on the road to recovery.

At the Nashville Recovery Center, dozens paid tribute to those who can no longer speak for themselves. Speakers representing several mental health and addiction services across Metro Nashville gathered to remember the names behind the staggering figures.

The numbers in Metro Nashville have reached a near-record pace for the city with more than 390 people dead because of overdose so far this year. Some anticipate this could mean overdose deaths in Metro topping 700 for the first time.

Patrick Custer is the National Alumni Director for Promises Behavioral Health and educates others on how mental health and addiction overlap. He says this was very apparent during the pandemic where isolation and depression led some to self-medicate and abuse substances they may not have otherwise resorted to.

“As you can imagine, the pandemic has influenced much of relapse, overdose, and mental health issues,” Custer said.

The impact was felt not only in Metro Nashville but around the country where more than 93,000 people died in 2020 because of overdose. The Centers for Disease Control says this increase of nearly 30 percent from the year before is the highest number of deaths in twelve months. It’s also the largest increase since 1999.

Custer says part of the problem is we’re often reacting rather than recognizing the signs at an early stage. The stigma behind getting help for mental health issues or addiction Patrick says will force some to keep quiet until it’s too late.

“If you have enough stigma to where you feel shameful about getting professional help for something that you’re struggling with and you don’t do that, you only get worse,” Custer said.

One common misconception about addiction and mental health is that if you don’t see it, then it doesn’t affect you. Experts say that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many argue that at the rate we lose people to overdose, this is a public health crisis and deserves a public health response.

For some, that means using the same approach we’ve seen for the pandemic to where public messages share the dangers of using drugs that could be laced with dangerous amounts of fentanyl.

The powerful synthetic opioid has been found in numerous illicit drugs, often with grave implications. In 2020, at least 80 percent of all overdose deaths across Metro Nashville found signs of fentanyl detected in the toxicology report.

At Tuesday’s event, guests were trained on how to use Narcan. The nasal spray has been used to revive those suspected of having an overdose. Guests also heard testimonials from recovering addicts and Custer says the goal was to remind others that there is such a thing as recovery. While on this day we remember those who lost their lives, tomorrow brings the first day of September and the first day of addiction recovery month.

“What it boils down to is we want to bridge the gap between people who are suffering and resources and hope that are available to let them know they’re not alone,” Custer said.