Boston Recognizes International Overdose Awareness Day

Last Thursday Mayor Michelle Wu and the City of Boston recognize International Overdose Awareness Day by bringing attention to the opioid epidemic that continues to harm communities and devastate families. The City extends its heartfelt condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to a fatal overdose and reaffirms its commitment to expanding access to lifesaving care and harm reduction services and dismantling the stigma associated with substance use disorders and overdose. 

In recognition of National Recovery Month, which began on September 1, City Hall will be illuminated in purple this evening in honor of all the lives lost to fatal overdoses. Bridges and government buildings across the state will also be lit in purple as part of this observance. Boston is once again joining with volunteers and State partners in planting 20,000 purple flags at Boston Common to memorialize the lives lost to overdoses over the past decade.

“Today, we grieve individuals who have lost their lives to overdose, honor the resiliency of their loved ones, and celebrate those who are in recovery,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “Boston will do everything we can to support residents experiencing or surviving substance use disorder toward a path of recovery and prevent the tragedies of overdose wherever possible.”

Earlier this year, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) issued a reminder to residents about the dangers of opioid use after new data revealed a 7 percent increase in fatal overdoses in Boston in 2022. Equally concerning were the significant racial disparities in overdose deaths and how this crisis is disproportionately harming communities of color. From 2017-2021 in Boston, the leading cause of premature deaths among male Black and Latinx residents combined was accidents, with opioid overdoses accounting for most of these deaths. In 2022, 30% of all opioid-related overdose deaths were among Black individuals and 21% were among Latinx individuals. From 2020-2022, the average annual opioid overdose death rate among Black and Latinx citizens was 66% and 31% greater than white residents, respectively. The City is committed to  working with government and community partners in ensuring that harm reduction, treatment, and prevention is accessible to all Bostonians. 

Another key factor driving these increases is the toxic drug supply. Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, was involved in more than 90% of opioid-related deaths in both the state and among Boston residents in 2022. The increasing presence of Xylazine, an animal tranquilizer known as “tranq,” in the drug supply also heightens the overdose risk due to its oversedation effects.

“The opioid epidemic has had a profound impact on our city. Every community and neighborhood in Boston has felt the pain of a fatal overdose,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, Commissioner of Public Health and Executive Director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “We honor the lives tragically cut short by overdoses by continuing to provide critical lifesaving treatment and harm reduction to anyone who is struggling with substance use disorders.” 

National Recovery Month serves as a platform to honor those living in recovery and underscore the programs and supports available to people experiencing substance use disorder. 

The Boston Public Health Commission is partnering across departments and neighborhoods to support the following activities and community events this September:

• MA Recovery Day – Statewide celebration of recovery taking place at Faneuil Hall. September 26.

• Recovery Documentary Series – A collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture and Boston Public Library to show and discuss three documentary films throughout the month.

• Nubian Square Task Force Presents Recovery Day – A community event featuring recovery speakers and food, happening at the Boston Public Library Roxbury branch. September 30.

• LGBTQ+ OD Prevention – Providing an overdose prevention training for the LGBTQ+ community, in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement.

• Trauma Awareness and Support – Sharing social media content that raises awareness about the trauma associated with overdoses and supports available to those who have survived an overdose, or who have lost a friend or loved one to an overdose.

• Calendar – Lifting up events and activities happening across the City. Ongoing throughout September. 

To find out more about recovery services and where to seek help, please dial 311 or visit The City of Boston provides an array of services, including treatment referrals, residential programming, overdose prevention training, and more. If you suspect an overdose, don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1 immediately. Fatal overdoses can be prevented through proactive education and harm reduction efforts.

BPHC distributed nearly 15,000 doses of Narcan to residents and community partners in 2022, and outreach workers reverse up to five overdoses a day. Boston EMS responded to 4,245 narcotic related incidents in 2022 and administered Narcan to 2,181 patients. The Commission also hosts training programs to equip opioid users, their families, and healthcare providers with the knowledge and skills to prevent, identify, and intervene during a drug overdose using naloxone. For more details on these training programs, please visit our overdose prevention website. 

Grief/Trauma Support:

•           Louis D Brown Peace Institute – The Peace Institute provides ongoing healing and safe spaces for survivors of homicide, suicide and overdose victims, as well as families of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated loved ones.  

• Support After a Death by Overdose (SADOD) – SADOD provides resources, information, and assistance to people throughout Massachusetts who have been affected by the death of someone they care about from a substance use-related cause. SADOD holds a grief support group in Charlestown.

• Learn2Cope – Learn to Cope is a peer-led support network that offers education, resources, and hope for family members and friends who have loved ones affected by substance use disorder.

General Support & Information:

• MA Substance Use Helpline – The MA Substance Use Helpline is the only statewide, public resource for finding substance use treatment, recovery, and problem gambling services. The helpline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Call 800-327-5050.

• MA Behavioral Health Helpline – The Behavioral Health Help Line (BHHL) connects individuals and families to the full range of treatment services for mental health and substance use offered in Massachusetts, including outpatient, urgent, and immediate crisis care. All services are free and available 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Call or text 833-773-2445. 

• SAMHSA – Opioid Overdose Info – Learn how to prevent, recognize, and treat signs of an opioid overdose.

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