Perspectives on Overdose
NOTE: Quotes are presented word for word apart from minor editing for readability and clarity. Identifying details have been removed. Square brackets show text that has been added or, where ellipses (three dots) appear, removed. For example, ‘Since I actually participated in this Narcan [training], I’ve administered it to two people and it’s brought them around […] I wouldn’t think twice about [doing] it. Saving someone’s life is the main thing.’
The project on which this website was based collected a range of views about the issue of opioid overdose, and risks of drug consumption more generally. Many participants say they think about overdose regularly, while others don’t see it as relevant to them. In some interviews, they emphasise political aspects of overdose, mentioning that people who consume drugs have human rights, or arguing that, as a way of caring for the ‘whole person’, doctors should discuss overdose risks with patients using pain medication.
Many also speak of the stigma associated with taking opioids, and overdose. The word ‘stigma’ refers to stereotypes, negative generalisations and judgements based on assumptions about a particular group of people. It can lead to exclusion and unfair treatment (often referred to as ‘discrimination’). Stigma and discrimination can also change the way people think of themselves: they may come to accept as true the negative judgements expressed by others. Individually and together, these aspects of stigma can impact on self-esteem, mental health and general well-being. Also contributing to stigma and discrimination for people who consume drugs are media coverage and policing and criminal justice practices.
While not everyone says overdose is relevant to them, many participants speak about different strategies they use or have used to reduce the risk of overdose. Trying a small amount of their heroin first to test for strength is a common strategy, but others are discussed too.
Participants also offer their perspectives on broader strategies to tackle overdose. For example, some speak of the harms caused by the ‘war on drugs’ and of the potential benefits of decriminalisation.
Overall, participants argue there is nothing to lose from learning overdose response strategies such as how to use take-home naloxone, even if it isn’t immediately relevant to them.