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Chasing Life With Dr. Sanjay Gupta | Drug Overdose Awareness and Management

May 21, 2024

This is a guest post by WWSG exclusive speaker, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. You can watch the exclusive video clip of his visit to 5280 High School here.

Early numbers from the CDC show that fatal drug overdoses in the US dropped in 2023, for the first time in five years. It’s a glimmer of hope after a continued climb during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to the CDC, overdose deaths in the US spiked 30% between 2019 and 2020 and rose another 15% between 2020 and 2021. In 2022, more than 109,000 people died of a drug overdose. But that number fell to about 107,500 in 2023.

It’s a welcome sign to see these numbers reverse course. However, it doesn’t mean we can take our feet off the gas when it comes to awareness and management of overdoses.

I recently had a chance to visit 5280 High School in Denver, the country’s largest recovery high school. I met students like Lucy Lefensty, a senior at the school. She started drinking and using drugs at 13, eventually smoking crack and fentanyl, and had to be rescued with the opioid overdose drug naloxone.

Sadly, her story isn’t unusual. Despite drug use overall for teens dropping in 2021 and holding steady the following year, overdoses among adolescents have doubled in recent years. Why? Because the drugs are deadlier, and they are so easy to obtain. Teens may not be aware of just how risky these drugs may be; counterfeit pills can easily have fentanyl mixed in.

As the father of teens, it’s a concern at the forefront of my mind. But one of the things that I took away from 5280 director Keith Hayes is the acronym B.O.A.T.: “Be Open and Authentic Together.”

Every morning at the school starts with students sharing and connecting: BOAT. And it is something we can all do with our own families and friends. Connect with one another; be there to support and hear each other. That connection can remind us that we have more than just ourselves when we face a crisis. It is a way to embody harm reduction in the most direct way: meet people where they are at, emotionally.

I’ve covered the drug overdose crisis for much of my journalism career. It can be bleak, but within it are moments of optimism and hope that remind me how resilient we can be and help turn this crisis around.

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