Youth2Youth observes International Overdose Awareness Day with panel discussion

·8 min read

Youth2Youth United Way Hastings Prince commemorated International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 with a panel discussion on Aug. 25 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. via Zoom about the impacts, stigmas and signs of addictions and overdose. Kaitlyn Lalonde, the Youth2Youth United Way HPE coordinator, comments on the panel discussion.

International Overdose Awareness Day is Aug. 31 every year, and its goal is to raise awareness about overdose, reduce the stigma associated with drug-related deaths and to remember those who have died or suffered permanent injury because of drug overdoses.

Lalonde explains the goal for the panel discussion that Youth2Youth United Way HPE had on Aug. 25;

“It’s for youth to learn alongside our community by engaging with individuals who work in the field and/or have experience with addictions in conversations around the impacts, stigmas and signs of addictions and overdose,” she says.

According to a media release sent out by Youth2Youth United Way HPE on Aug. 18, the impact of overdoses has been devastating across HPE and around the world.

“Overdoses can happen to anyone of any age, and its effects are devastating to individuals, family and friends. This topic is especially important to youth as ‘young Canadians aged 15 to 24 are the fastest growing population requiring hospital care from opioid overdoses.’ [Government of Canada]. Now more than ever, we need to educate ourselves on this crisis,” they said in the media release.

Lalonde says that in addition to youth from the local community, Amanda, Jessica and Allie, the panel consisted of the following experts; Jeremy Owens, public health nurse, harm reduction with Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, Derek Van Alstyne, regional harm reduction coordinator with Trellis, Craig Simmons, probation officer with Youth Justice, Jason Bruder, hospital liaison addictions counsellor with Addictions Mental Health Services HPE, Bill Gutherie, a community member with lived experience with addiction and over 30 years of recovery, Melissa Bodden, youth diversion with the KAIROS program and Amanda Friel-Brown, nurse practitioner with the Led Clinic mobile community withdrawal team.

Lalonde thanked everyone for attending the virtual panel discussion and said that they had prepared questions for the panelists on the local perspective of addictions and overdose in our community and how we’re experiencing it.

“As we near International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31, it was important to local youth that they learned alongside you, our community members, about the impacts, stigma and signs of addiction and overdose. As a result of that, a partnership developed between Addictions Mental Health Services HPE and United Way HPE’s Youth2Youth program,” she says.

Lalonde then introduced Mary LaBine, addictions program manager with AMHS HPE. LaBine told the attendees she had over 30 years in the addictions sector and that any kind of awareness around that was great. She said that the first International Overdose Awareness Day had happened in Australia in 2001, was recognized globally every year on Aug. 31 and has become the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose and reduce stigma, specifically around overdose deaths.

LaBine said that in Hastings Prince Edward, the first International Overdose Awareness Day occurred the year prior to COVID-19, in 2019. She said that they had hosted an event at Market Square in Belleville and in 2020 during the first year of COVID-19, nothing really occurred at all in any of the communities at any kind of capacity other than smaller groups maybe. And last year, she said that AMHS hosted a virtual event with other agencies. This year, she said it was quite amazing in terms of all the events that have been happening. AMHS will be hosting another live event Aug. 31, there’ll be another event in Bancroft, Quinte West is doing a Memorial Walk and Hastings Prince Edward Public Health is doing a lot in HPE.

“And this initiative is really new and I’m just thankful that you organized this so thank you. And why is it important, and many say it’s more important now than it’s ever been. And the reason for that is sadly the rates of overdose continue to escalate globally, across our country and HPE is no exception. Our rates of overdose are higher than the provincial average, so we’re not immune and it’s quite a significant problem,” she says.

LaBine then turned it over to the other panelists, to answer the questions and discuss the issue.

The first question to arise was why was International Overdose Awareness Day important and what is one misconception people have? The panelists thought it was very important as many have lost their lives to overdoses and many have personal experience with it as well. They say it’s important so that community awareness can be increased, people can be educated drug use can be regulated to preclude unsafe contaminated drugs that are deadly and to reduce the stigma around addictions and overdoses.

As far as misconceptions, they said that addiction and overdose can happen to anyone, in all walks of life and all it takes to get addicted is using just one time. They also cited the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which many may not be aware of, that allows people to call 911 for someone having an overdose even if they have a small amount of drugs on their person. They said that awareness of this Act may save a life and prevent overdoses.

The second question was about the difference between addiction and random drug and alcohol use and the signs to look for. The panelists said that for a variety of people, there were a variety of signs. These could manifest in shakes, sweats, tremors, mood swings, depression, physical changes, sleeping habit changes, isolation and more. They said that for an addiction, there was a compulsion or need for the substance and that if you need it every day to get by, then it is an addiction, versus recreational usage.

The third question was how to recognize an overdose, an explanation of Naloxone and other tools to help if Naloxone isn’t available. The panel said that with an opioid overdose, not being able to wake somebody up, if they’re gurgling, choking, have shallow or other breathing difficulties, blue lips and nails and pinpoint pupils are all signs of an overdose.

With regard to Naloxone, it’s a reversal agent that can be injected or administered nasally that works against opioids, entering the body and binding to the receptor sites in the brain, preventing the opioids from depressing the central nervous system and allowing the person who overdosed to start breathing again. They recommend that anyone with a Naloxone kit, which are available through HPEPH and local pharmacies to the general public free, also have CPR training to use in tandem with the Naloxone. Once administered and taking effect, they stress that 911 should be called as soon as possible to get the person who overdosed to the hospital. They also said that there’s a five-step guide and training program on the HPEPH website. As for any other tools if Naloxone isn’t available, they said there aren’t any, and that Naloxone is the best and at this time only tool to reverse an opioid overdose.

The fourth question was about harm reduction strategies and why they are important. The panelists said that harm reduction aims to reduce harm to the individual and the community when it comes to drug use, addiction and overdose. They pointed to safe injection sites, not using drugs alone, if you use drugs with another person have the second person wait 10 to 15 minutes before using in case the first person has an overdose, having access to a 24-hour hotline, like the one offered through the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction ( if you do use alone (so they’ll stay on the line with you and if you don’t respond within 10 to 15 minutes, they’ll send help).

The fifth question had to do with the implications of continued drug use and why it was important to get help to quit early versus later. The panelists said there were myriad implications; social, family, health (especially with youth as their brain development continues through their teenage years), financial, legal and criminal. As far as getting help early, they said it was good to disrupt the link between strong emotions and substance abuse early because that link gets reinforced over time.

The last question asked to the panel was about available resources in the community. They replied with a large list of them, including; Hastings Prince Edward Public Health, AMHS, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, KAIROS youth diversion program, St. Lawrence Youth Association, St. Leonard’s Community Services, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous,, and organizations like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon for families and friends of drug users and addicts needing support.

Lalonde thought the panel discussion went very well when she spoke with The Bancroft Times on Aug. 30, saying it was an incredible panel, made up professionals who work in various positions in the field and individuals with lived experience.

“Each one brought a different perspective to the discussion but they were all able to connect with one another. The youth asked engaging and thoughtful questions around breaking down stigma, the signs to look for and harm reduction strategies and why they’re incredibly important. There was also a great discussion around Naloxone, how to access it and why it’s crucial in the opioid crisis. The panelists’ shared resources and how to access them in Belleville, Quinte West and Bancroft areas, which we know is vital for youth and parents/caregivers to know,” she says. “Our goal was for youth to learn alongside the community on a difficult topic and I feel that goal was met with this panel discussion.”

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times