My name is Emily Ebdon. I live in Nipulina/Hobart, Lutruwita/Tasmania at the bottom of the world. Tasmania is a small place, but we have a big community spirit!
I’ve long been a frontline Harm Reductionist, managing 2 of Tasmania’s busiest Needle and Syringe Programs (NSPs) for over a decade. I’m also a narcofeminist and advocate for people who use drugs. I’m extremely passionate about community, especially my local community! And I work closely and independently in a small team of fellow friends and advocates: Jo Murphy and Kerrie Dare.
Q: Can you describe the overdose related work that is done in your community?
Before I left NSP work to do some project work, I was privileged enough to be a part of the distribution of Take Home Naloxone (THN) through our NSPs. We distributed the kits, free to anyone who wanted them. I got to hear about reversals and learn from people living in remote, rural areas of Tasmania, how THN, bought paramedics critical time in responding to overdose calls.
The THN trial and ongoing supply of Naloxone to Tasmanians who use drugs, is one of the things I think Tassie peers have done so well and should be proud of. THN availability is well-known and well-utilised in Tasmania.
The other special thing we did in our NSPs for a 10 year period, was to provide our community a place and opportunity to memorialise mates who died of drug overdose. Folded origami hearts were provided to people accessing the NSPs. These hearts were taken, written on and displayed in our outlets. We laminated all the hearts each year. The collection of hearts grew every year. The collection was poignant: beautiful and sad at the same time. Sometimes you’d come across a heart written for a friend you knew had died, noticing the author of the tribute had also since died from an overdose. Each heart represented a person who had died and a person who loved them. The hearts memorial activity was powerful in representing the love and respect our community has for one another.
Q: What does International Overdose Awareness Day mean to you?
I feel like for me International Overdose Awareness Day has a real duality:
It’s awareness raising – incredibly important.
And it’s a time to remember our friends and family who we’ve lost.
A third thing is that it’s an opportunity to reduce and challenge the stigma that still sadly, surrounds overdose deaths. People who use drugs do not deserve shame and judgement in death as much as we don’t deserve it in life. I think International Overdose Awareness Day is a lot about dignity and compassion and respect for our dead.
Q: We often talk about the people we have lost to overdose, and it is incredibly important to honour those people It’s also important to honour our community who are responding to overdose and empowering others to prevent more people being impacted by overdose. Can you tell me about a time where you felt the positive impact of what you do, either because you were involved or you were told about something?
Yes, any time I heard of a reversal after providing THN to someone – you really can’t get much better than that. I really appreciate this question. Highlighting that PWUDs save lives and we save each other’s lives. Recently, a person tried to tell me that all drug users are ‘c***s’ – I could not believe how wrong they were. I’ve met so many angels in the community that are literal lifesavers! Not only that, but our community shows to funerals time and again and looks after the partners or family and friends grieving the loss of their loved one. I know of a situation where some of us were worried about a friend who lost their partner to overdose. We formed a roster to make sure there was someone always with her, looking after her in her grief. These are true friendships. Too often, the strength and power of our solidarity is overlooked and underestimated.
Q: If you could say one thing to people who don’t understand this issue, what would you say?
Overdose is a preventable death which can be successfully treated and reversed with Naloxone. This is no different to the way any other resus medications are used, such as Ventolin for asthma attacks for example.
Using drugs is not a moral failing and we should be treated fairly and with life saving interventions as much as the next person.
Please consider supporting overdose awareness this Aug 31st.