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Groups Hope Overdose Awareness Day Will Help With Prevention And Treatment Efforts

Melinda Ruger of the non-profit Harm Reduction Services looks at a collage made of portraits of people who have died from accidental drug overdoses. She knew one of the girls in the picture.


The number of drug-overdose deaths in the United States has increased every year for more than a decade.  Monday is International Overdose Awareness Day.

An event at the California State Capitol will focus on efforts to reduce overdose deaths.  

Drug overdoses are the number one cause of accidental death in the U.S.

Melinda Ruger is Executive Director of the Sacramento overdose-prevention non-profit group, Harm Reduction Services, and is a recovering heroin addict.

"Well, the largest growing population of opiate abusers that we see are young people and when we ask how they got to where they are now, it is through prescription pills."

Harm Reduction Services supports restrictions on opioid prescriptions like Oxycontin because addiction often leads to heroin use and addiction.

The non-profit supplies heroin addicts with clean needles and overdose-reversing drugs like Narcan.

"If you die prematurely, there's no hope for you, right? Change is not gonna happen. So, what kind of safer practices can we implement so that you can live through this experience which is substance using."

Until two years ago, the organization worked exclusively to prevent HIV-AIDS. 

The group also hopes to see more government funding for treatment centers. Ruger says when an addict makes the decision to quit, he or she may have to wait as long as a month to be admitted to a facility.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 44,000 people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses in 2013.

About half were from illegal drugs like heroin. About a-third involved prescription painkillers or opioids. 

According to the non-profit Trust For America's Health, California had the 15th lowest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States in 2013, with 10.6 per 100,000 people dying from overdoses.

The number of drug overdose deaths in the state increased by 31 percent from 1999 when the rate was 8.1 per 100,000.

The report says nationally, rates increased by 100-percent in 29 states, by 200-percent in 10 states and by 300-percent in four states compared to 1999. 

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