International Overdose Awareness Day: Past and Present

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

S. J. Finn speaking at the World's Largest Overdose Prevention Training 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. Image provided by Finn to Kenneth Young Center.

Written by Krupa Patel, CCPRD Project Associate

Losing a loved one to drug overdose is a painful experience.

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is a global day of remembrance held yearly on August 31st that seeks to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma associated with drug-related deaths. In addition, this day serves as an opportunity to bring together communities and aid in the healing process. In the United States, this day is a precursor to National Recovery Month which takes place all throughout the month of September.

How did IOAD begin? Let’s travel back to the year 2001, to Melbourne, Australia. At the Salvation Army at St. Kilda, S.J. Finn was managing a needle and syringe program.

Finn had firsthand experience of counseling those who had lost their loved ones to overdose. She knew that overdose was preventable, recovery was possible, and that shame/stigma were dilapidating. She understood that people impacted by overdose do not often receive the dignity and respect they deserve (Amethyst, 2015).

The first Overdose Awareness Day was born from Finn’s fervor and leadership. The program for this day in 2001 was simple: a ribbon ceremony for anyone who wanted to honor a loved one who had passed away from overdose. The event organizers ended up distributing 6,000 ribbons, and sparking a commemorative, worldwide movement.

IOAD continues into the year 2020. On August 31, people in at least 23 countries are organizing events to honor the intentions of this day. Despite the global reach of IOAD, not all countries treat those who use drugs the same way. This year is unlike any other year since 2001 due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has disrupted everything and exacerbated many ongoing socio-economic issues.

The loss of in-person recovery groups and isolation is one thing, but the other side of this situation is how unmet basic needs can influence someone to turn to substances to cope. The United States is facing record-high rates of overdose, job loss, debt, evictions, homelessness, gender and sexuality-related abuse, child abuse, food scarcity, lack of consistent healthcare, violence from the police and immigration officials, and more. This is not your average IOAD.

The current social moment is an opportunity for people to create brave spaces to speak their truths, advocate for their needs, and get connected to life-saving resources. During this IOAD and National Recovery Month, all are encouraged to get involved with local programming related to substance use recovery. Here are some events and resources to keep an eye out for:

For help finding harm reduction, substance use treatment, and recovery resources across Illinois, contact the Illinois Helpline for Opioids and Other Substances by calling 1-833-2FINDHELP (1-833-234-6343), texting "HELP" to 833234, or visiting:

#RecoveryBelongs to all people, no matter what the circumstance. Finn’s work to bring Overdose Awareness Day demonstrates to us that great visions can be actualized when people work together in community. We hope this year to deepen our impact in recovery communities, and we invite you to join and shape our programming along the way.


Amethyst. (2015). Overdose Awareness Day 2015. Amethyst Recovery Center.

Read more from our staff:

Substance Use Recovery During COVID-19

Faces of Recovery: African Americans & Substance Use

Substance Use Among LGBTQ+ Communities

Teens and Substance Use Recovery: An Interview

Say This, Not That: The Language of Substance Use Recovery

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Funding provided to the Kenneth Young Center by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the Illinois Public Health Association, the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County, and Schaumburg Township.