Overdose Awareness Day Highlights That More Work Needs to be Done

By Beth Treffeisen

On Aug. 31 the City of Boston will be joining over 100 cities worldwide to recognize Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness and commemorate overdose victims and those affected worldwide.

Here in Boston, City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George continues to bring attention to the cause through her work.

Essaibi-George will be marking the start of Overdose Awareness Month by joining the Office of Recovery Services and community leaders at City Hall Plaza at 5 p.m. for an interfaith ceremony to remember those who have lost their lives to addiction.

“It is also for the families and friends who have lost loved ones to addiction or are currently helping someone find recovery,” said Essaibi-George. “This is not a conversation you can have in a coffee shop. There isn’t the same public support.”

The opioid epidemic continues to have a profound impact on Massachusetts and the City of Boston. Four in 10 Massachusetts residents know someone who has misused prescription painkillers in the past five years. In the Commonwealth, there are about six opioid-related deaths every day.

Between 2000 and 2016, the City of Boston lost 611 people to opioid overdoses, the largest number of victims in the state of Massachusetts.

“There is a month for everything but it is important to bring attention to the opioid crisis,” said Essaibi-George. “We are forgetting the families and the impact it has on the family dynamic.”

Most recently, Essaibi-George has been working on helping to mitigate the symptoms of the opioid epidemic by reducing the amount of needles found on the street.

Earlier this year, Essaibi-George worked with Mayor Martin Walsh to double the capacity of the Mobile Sharps team. Now there are four dedicated people to picking up sharps reported through the city’s 311 system.

Two of those members also now provide direct services such as giving out bottled water and providing information to shelters or recovery coaches that aim to get people into recovery.

“This is a symptom to the crisis and this is definitely a smaller step versus a bigger leap in getting to our end goal,” said Essaibi-George.

In addition, earlier this month, Essaibi-George filed an ordinance with the Boston City Council calling on retail pharmacies to take back used sharps by providing a small receptacle for people to place used sharps into at their locations.

Essaibi-George said that pharmacies profit from the sale of the needles that many people use for chronic diseases from diabetes, Epipens, to pregnancy treatments, and more, in addition to those who use sharps for drugs.

As of right now, many people who use sharps have to pay to mail them back – leaving many people in a dilemma. There are currently only nine disposal units in the area. If implemented it would provide over 100 collection sites.

“Right now, many people can’t do it so they put it in a coffee can and put the lid on tight and put it in the trash,” said Essaibi-George. “The 100 locations across the city will provide real help to reduce the stress on residents.”

In addition, the ordinance will provide proper education to those handling used sharps and ask pharmacies to report how many needles are being collected.

A hearing to learn more on how this will affect pharmacies was held on Aug. 16. The next step will be hold a working session sometime in October.

“The number of overdoses is still going up,” said Essabi-George. “We are just able to respond better.”

Other events happening on Aug, 31 include the Boston Health Care for the Homeless that will be projecting portraits of men and women who have died from opioid overdose on the facades of the buildings at 780 Albany St. and at 685 Tremont St. in the South End. The portraits will include words of remembrance written by loved ones.

In addition, Rosie’s Place are inviting guests to hear stories of clients who have struggled with addiction and seen loved ones lost to overdose.

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