Talking to Loved Ones

Talking to your loved one about preventing an overdose can be hard. But there are ways to make talking about it easier for both of you. Avoid being judgmental about their drug use. Talk with them about ways to reduce their risk – this is called harm reduction. Discuss the importance of calling 911 if there is an overdose. Calling 911 can prevent an overdose from being deadly.

What is harm reduction?

Risk is a part of life. We find ways to reduce our risk all the time, such as using seatbelts when driving, using a designated driver or public transportation when drinking, and using condoms when having sex. Such strategies are examples of harm reduction.

Harm reduction recognizes that:

  • drug use exists
  • some people may not be willing or able to stop using
  • any steps taken to reduce risk and to use more safely are positive and promote safety and health

When talking with your loved one about harm reduction and overdose prevention:

  • Be non-judgmental
  • Meet them “where they are at” and focus on their strengths
  • Listen
  • Celebrate any positive steps toward health, safety, and risk reduction, no matter how small
  • Talk with the person about the risk factors (link) to overdose and his or her experiences witnessing or surviving an overdose

Calling 911

People who use have many fears about calling 911 and involving the police at the scene of an overdose, including:

  • Fear of legal risk (arrest for possession, illegal use, or outstanding warrants, loss of children to foster care, or loss of public housing)
  • Fear of judgment and/or negative responses from family/community/employer
  • Personal embarrassment/shame/social stigma
  • Other punitive measures or negative consequences (for example, students may lose federal financial aid)
  • Urban legends (fears of being charged for homicide for being at an overdose, or being deported – even though these cannot happen)
  • Becoming homeless by getting kicked out of a substance abuse treatment program or sober housing situation for using

Let them know:

  • Helping at an overdose is NOT a reason for arrest
  • Being at an overdose BY ITSELF is not reason for arrest
  • Using with someone who overdoses is NOT reason for an attempted murder charge

Let them know that if they MUST leave the scene of an overdose:

  • Call 911
  • Put the person in the recovery position
  • Leave the door open/unlocked