Fatal overdoses are the headline news in the opioid crisis. The numbers are staggering and they are getting worse: British Columbia just reported more than 200 deaths in a single month. What is often overlooked is the toll on the survivors – the walking wounded of the crisis. Some get through overdoses and suffer brain damage or other disabling consequences; others struggle with rashes, abscesses, collapsed veins or hepatitis C.
“It’s easy to project the spotlight on overdose deaths, but there are far, far more people who have experienced an overdose, lived and had long-term effects from that,” said Seonaid Nolan, a doctor at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital. Though they cheated death, “their trajectory in life has just markedly shifted.”
“My concern is that we make this broad-sweeping assumption that if people survive the overdose they’re okay,” said Tara Gomes, a scientist at St. Michael’s who was one of the authors of the Ontario study on infections. “It’s not enough just to think the overdose is reversed and they’re just back to where they were before.”
Because of the stigma that still comes with drug use, she said, many patients aren’t taken seriously, given the proper tests or treated in a timely way.