International Overdose Awareness Day, observed yearly on 31 August, is a global effort to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It is also an opportunity to take action and spread the message that overdose death is preventable.
As one of Victoria’s largest community health organisations, cohealth provides a range of specialist health care and harm reduction support services for people using drugs.
“We know overdose is preventable. Access to specialist drug and alcohol services saves lives,” says cohealth CE, Nicole Bartholomeusz. “It reduces the harmful impacts of drug use on the person, benefitting the broader community.”
In 2017, there were more than 1,000 unintentional drug-induced deaths in Australia. Each one of these deaths is a tragic loss and, in many cases, could have been avoided if the person had access to the right treatment and support.
cohealth provides drug and alcohol services at various sites across north-west Melbourne, including cohealth Central City, Innerspace and Health Works.
cohealth client Frank* 50, had been battling drug addiction and homelessness for decades when he first came across cohealth Central City.
Frank had experienced trauma after breaking his neck in a serious car accident, and losing his brother, dad and mum within a year. Like many people who have experienced trauma, he was using alcohol and drugs to numb the pain and had tried a number of times to kick his addictions.
Frank’s life was spiralling out of control. He had come close to giving up when he connected with a cohealth social worker who put in place supports which allowed Frank to get his life back on track.
“I found people at cohealth who had faith in me,” says Frank. “I’ve completed the alcohol and drug recovery course run by cohealth three times. The worker who runs the course says that I’m his best student.”
For Frank, overcoming addiction was more than just about the physical withdrawal. He needed a range of psychosocial supports to help him re-engage with society.
Life has changed dramatically for Frank since. His worker helped him get into community housing in the CBD, where Frank has been living since early 2020.
He continues to visit the Central City clinic for health and social supports, and to fall back on when he encounters stumbling blocks. “I don’t want to let myself down, but I also don’t want to let my workers down. They’ve changed my life,” he says. “If it wasn’t for cohealth, I wouldn’t be alive now.”
In September it will be three years since Frank went to rehab with the support of cohealth and he is now receiving pharmacotherapy treatment.
“It’s my three-year anniversary of being drug-free. Every six months I go out to lunch with my worker to celebrate,” he says.
Success stories like Frank’s are possible because of the range of drug and alcohol services cohealth is able to provide. cohealth takes a holistic approach of combining a range of services to suit clients’ needs and working with people that have a lived experience of drug use.
“The contribution of our staff and clients with lived experience of drug use has been really beneficial in the development and delivery of our services” says Nicole Bartholomeusz. “We know from experience that peer-led outreach is a highly effective way to deliver support to clients where they need it.”
cohealth meets clients where they are – whether it be implementing risk minimisation measures such as providing free access and training to Naloxone to prevent death by overdose, or pharmaceutical replacement therapy for people who are withdrawing from drug and alcohol.
For more information on cohealth’s drug and alcohol services, go to the health care for drug users page.
cohealth acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends who have had love ones die or suffer permanent injury from drug overdose. For more information on International Overdose Awareness Day go to www.overdoseday.com/