On International Overdose Awareness Day, Narelle Hassett’s thoughts will turn to three men: her brother Shane, who died of a prescription drug overdose at the age of 29, and the paramedics who saved her life when she was overdosing from heroin as a troubled 19-year-old.
Narelle is now enjoying a full life as a mum to her step children and doting aunt to Shane’s six-year-old daughter. She avoids even the mildest of medication and loves her job as a disability support worker.
“Every day at work I get a chance to make someone smile. It’s a way for me to give back for all of those bad years. It’s nice to be on the other side.”
Narelle started using heroin at the age of 16 to escape mental health issues, including crippling anxiety. At 19, she realised she had a choice — give up drugs or die.
“That was what prompted the overdose,” Narelle says. “I didn’t know how to go about getting clean, it seemed too overwhelming.”
Luckily for Narelle, ambulance officers promptly attended the scene and administered the overdose antidote medication, naloxone. She has kept the naloxone packaging, marked with the date and time of her overdose. Soon after, with the support of the man she has since married, and her family, she enrolled in a methadone program and turned her life around.
“I think of all the good things I could have missed out on … I was given a second chance at life because of naloxone and two wonderful paramedics who I will never get to thank.”
Shane was not so lucky. After years of doctor shopping for a range of opioid medications to cope with depression, he died at his parent’s home. His father was in the kitchen, unaware that the sound of heavy snoring was an indicator Shane was experiencing an overdose.
Narelle was close to her brother and his death was shattering. She still keenly feels the stigma people who use drugs face and, on International Overdose Awareness Day, she hopes the community will be a little kinder to those impacted by drug use; understanding that mental health issues are often a contributing factor in their choices.
She also hopes that those with family or friends who use drugs will learn the signs of an overdose and ensure they have naloxone on hand. Take home naloxone wasn’t an option when Shane was alive. She wonders if it was, would he still be.
– Kate Robertson