MERIDEN — In honor of International Overdose Awareness Day, Hartford HealthCare's Rushford and the Meriden Department of Health and Human Services are collaborating to host the fifth annual free community event on the Meriden Green Amphitheater on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. What is International Overdose Day?
International Overdose Awareness Day is observed on Aug. 31 and was started by an Australian public health non-profit, Penington Institute, in 2001. The day presents an opportunity for governments and organizations to host community events that promote addiction education and treatment resources.
Rushford's Clinical Director for Crisis and Acute Community Programming, Jessica Matyka, said that International Overdose Awareness Day creates a comfortable space for conversations about addiction and its widespread impact.
"If we all took a minute to think, the majority of people would be able to identify someone in their family or friends that has struggled with some type of substance use issue at some point in their life," she said. "So, it's important to continue to have those conversations just so people know … that anybody can struggle with substance use disorder and what the resources are for people if they need them." What is the community event at the Green?
Matyka said the collaborative community event would have a variety of addiction educational stands, local behavioral health partner vendors and treatment resources. A stand will also be dedicated to teaching how to administer an opioid overdose reversal drug called naloxone, also known as Narcan. Attendees who are trained will receive a free Narcan kit while supplies last.
At 11 a.m., the Phoenix, a national physical training organization that promotes sober workout environments, is hosting a free “Morning Recovery” yoga for attendees.
"It's a family-friendly event," Matyka said. "We just want to bring the community together and reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorders, bring awareness to overdose and help put information out into the community that might be helpful for somebody or their loved ones." What are the overdose numbers in Connecticut?
In addition to bringing awareness, International Overdose Awareness Day honors individuals who've died from drug overdoses, said Lea Crown, director of the Meriden Department for Health and Human Services.
In 2021, 1,531 state residents died of a drug overdose, an 11% increase from 2020, reported the state Department of Public Health. However, there was a 4% decrease in overdose deaths from 2022 to 2021.
In Meriden, 28 residents died of accidental overdoses in 2022, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. This year, 17 residents have died.
"It is a day to remember without stigma those who have died from an overdose and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind," Crown said. "One life lost is too much; we encourage all residents to recognize an overdose and learn how to use naloxone to reverse an overdose."What is the collaboration between the health department and Rushford?
Matyka said Saturday's community event is not the only instance of the "seamless" partnership between the city's health department and Rushford in recent years, especially regarding the Meriden Opioid Referral for Recovery Program.
The MOOR program is a partnership between Rushford, Meriden first responders and the city health department to address the ongoing opioid epidemic. It began in 2018 with a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, its funding expired in September 2022.
Over the last year, Crown said the city's health department has helped fund MOOR through a grant from the National Association of County and City Officials Implementing Overdose Prevention at the Local Level. She added that the grant funds will run through January 2024, but they hope to hear soon from the original grant application that would help the program until 2027.
Matyka said the partnership with the city continues to grow as they meet monthly to "problem solve, troubleshoot and ... brainstorm new or different ideas on how to continue to make an impact in the city."
To learn more, visit the Meriden Harm Reduction and Overdose Prevention and Response webpage. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call 877-577-3233 to get in touch with MORR.