My mom died in 2005 from a drug and alcohol overdose. I was in middle school at the time, and for many years after I felt humiliated when people asked me how she passed.
“I don’t know.”
“What? How do you not know?”
“I… I just don’t know.”
I lied about it often.
My entire life I’ve craved acceptance. Yes, even as a child I was a people-person and performed incredibly well in large groups — but you never really know what goes on behind the scenes. I felt I’d be judged for my mother’s actions, when in reality, the way she chose to live her life had absolutely nothing to do with how I was perceived by others; ESPECIALLY as a middle school child! But I was 12 years old and wouldn’t have believed you. I wanted to fit in and not be known as the girl whose mom died from drugs.
I hated that she overdosed. I still do. My mom was fucking awesome aside from her addiction and I still find myself resentful that I didn’t get to spend more time with her. I want to know her more, especially now in my adulthood. I 100% know she would have been by absolute best friend and as I write this I feel furious.
But through the anger I can feel her. Through my unprocessed grief I see her every time I look in the mirror. I laugh with her each time I laugh with my baby sister. And I thank all the higher beings that I can celebrate her life with my loving grandparents.
It just sucks. But I’m working through it and I know I’m not the only one who feels this pain.
According to the CDC, 67,367 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2018. Even though the number of drug overdose deaths decreased 4% from 2017 to 2018, the overall number of drug overdose deaths was still four times higher in 2018 compared to 1999.
I know my mom meddled in a variety of different drugs, and I also know her drug of choice was Lortabs… washed down with vodka. It’s something no child should ever have to see — but I saw and heard a lot of things you shouldn’t as a child. Oh well, I guess I learned what not to do for my future children, right?
Lortab is a form of opioid, and opioid addictions run rampant in America. Americanaddictioncenters.org report that 91 people die every day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. The numbers seem to vary from one state to the next for a variety of reasons: low income, ability to take time off from work, ability to travel to a clinic, and more. Kentucky, where my family is from, seems to be one of the hardest-hit states.
So, what is International Overdose Awareness Day?
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) started in Melbourne, Australia in 2001. It is now recognized globally on August 31st, with 874 IOAD events happening in 39 countries in 2019. In 2020, their 20th anniversary year, the campaign is set to break their own record again.
IOAD was created to raise awareness to overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths. The IOAD website lists other wonderful reasons for the day:
- To provide an opportunity for people to publicly mourn loved ones in a safe environment, some for the first time without feeling guilt or shame.
- To include the greatest number of people in International Overdose Awareness Day events, and encourage non-denominational involvement.
- To give community members information about the issue of fatal and non-fatal overdose.
- To send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued.
- To stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.
- To provide basic information on the range of support services that are available.
- To prevent and reduce drug-related harm by supporting evidence-based policy and practice.
- To inform people around the world about the risk of overdose.
You can read their 32-page partners’ report for 2019 here.
How you can help:
You can donate to their campaign here so they can continue to drive awareness, confront stigma, and provide education. They also have an Activities Page to find events happening near you.
If you want to make an impact in your own community, do a little research! A quick google search of “International Overdose Awareness Day + your city/state/country” should provide you with some sort of organization, events, or donations you can be involved with.
Have the tough talks with loved ones struggling with drug addiction. Do it now while they’re still with us, and please, have patience with them. Change can only happen once they realize it needs to happen, but you can be that helping hand. You can be the one to open that door to a better life for them.
I eventually grew out of lying about my mother’s death because I knew that’s not what she would have wanted. She’d want me to be strong, truthful, loving. She’d want me to be a woman who raises awareness where she couldn’t. I will hold strong in that to honor her name.
Remembering you, mom.
Joy Yvette Ford
February 23, 1967 – November 17, 2005