Patrick McKenzie, who works in Townsville, was so moved by his first International Overdose Awareness Day last year, that he is already planning another even more special event for this year.
He recounted his experience of the day to the Bulletin.
“I was new to Townsville. I contacted a colleague at the NSP and we and a bunch of people from one of the Salvation Army rehabs put something on,” Patrick said.
“There were about a dozen people, and we met under a Moreton Bay fig tree, which just happened to have a broken limb. It was symbolic. We talked about our personal experience of surviving overdoses,” he said.
“I’ve survived it many times, I have to say. We spoke about how easy it is to overdose, and the shame that can be involved. The shame of coming to in a park, or in a car, and you’ve been narcanned (administered naloxone).
“The shock, particularly when members of the public see it, when the ambulance might get called to your house, and your neighbours find out.
“People shared a lot of those stories. Mixed with gratitude for narcan, and then the trauma of going and scoring again because of that misconception that ‘the dope has gone out of my system and I have to score again’.
“I had three overdoses in one day – a long time ago – because of that kind of behaviour,” Patrick said.
“So all the people told brief stories, and then we attempted to light little candles, and the wind kept putting them out.”
“Everyone wrote down the names of the people they knew had passed away, and between the 12 of us we had about 20 names. And 10 were mine that I knew over the years.”
“It was really powerful and symbolic. And the worker from the NSP spoke about initiatives, such as trying to get naloxone publically available, the risks of fentanyl going around etcetera, so there was a psycho-education component as well,” he said.
“This year I want to do something more significant. Even though I’ve worked in the sector for years, in the mainstream the stigma of being a user is really profound.
“I’d never been in an Overdose Day event before. It was just so moving to be able to name my friends publicly, in this special session of people who understood. To read their names aloud and have other people hear – that was very, very potent.”
“That was my first one. Previously I didn’t have the time or capacity. Now I do. I’ll be doing it again, and we are going to make it very special.”