Overdose Awareness Day

August 31 is “Overdose Awareness” day.

All too often, when we discuss deaths due to overdose, we treat the victim as a statistic. For example, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit reports the following:

“Preliminary data shows that there were 136 confirmed and probable opioid-related deaths in Simcoe Muskoka in 2022, which was 20% lower than the 171 deaths in 2021. In Ontario, there were 2,521 confirmed and probable opioid deaths in 2022, which was 12% lower than the 2,865 deaths in 2021.”

This is not to question the validity of the data presented by our health unit, in fact, quite the opposite. SMDHU does an incredible job of presenting statistics that are meaningful and that help organizations respond to crisis such as this one.

The problem is how this data is often received or reinterpreted. To look at the data would indicate that the overdose crisis is waning or that at the very least progress is being made.

Instead, we need to continue to focus on the fact that 136 individuals died as the result of an opioid-related overdose, that the parents, partners, children of 136 people lost a loved one, and that these deaths were preventable.


Overdose and addiction are complicated issues and complicated issues require an innovative and collaborative community response. At its core, this community response must be rooted in empathy.

Empathy for the individuals struggling with this illness and in worst cases succumbing to it with their lives. Empathy for the families and loved ones who struggle with decisions on a day in day out basis on how to best help a loved one who is living with this illness. Empathy for those who have chosen to pursue a career that supports individuals dealing with addiction.

So how can you help?

First and foremost, learn how to use a Naloxone kit: your quick response could save a life, and every life is worth saving.

Second, support public policy that reexamines how we deal with this issue because criminalizing addiction doesn’t work: we need to support legislation that is primarily focused on a decrease in avoidable deaths due to overdose.

Third, it goes back to empathy: we cannot understand what everyone is going through, but we can value their lives and even go as far as to seek to better understand their challenges.

Bria n Shelley
Brian Shelley
Chief Executive & Philanthropy Officer
United Way Simcoe Muskoka

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