“Now the Fight is Personal:” Why Opioid Overdose Awareness is Critical 

International Overdose Awareness

My story did not end due to losing my loved one to an overdose; instead, my story began. I will always advocate to end the stigma that comes along with the disease of addiction, and honor those that we have lost along the way.    

Lauren Ray, LCSW, LCAS

Losing someone you love is never easy, but losing them to an overdose brings a unique blend of heartache, confusion, and guilt. I want to share my personal experience of why International Overdose Awareness Day is important to me. 

In recent years, the United States has faced an alarming and devastating opioid crisis. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 106,699 drug-involved overdose deaths reported in the U.S. in 2021. NCDHHS reports that 11 North Carolinians died each day from a drug overdose in 2022. In Wake County, 240 people died of overdoses in 2021.

Through education, understanding, and compassion, we can make a significant impact in preventing overdose deaths and helping those struggling with addiction.

A Campaign to Raise Awareness & End Overdose

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is on August 31 and is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdoses. The campaign raises awareness of overdose, remembers those who have died without stigma, and acknowledges the grief of the family and friends left behind.

Opioid overdose awareness is critical in our collective efforts to address this public health emergency.

Losing a Loved One to Overdose

In 2019, I was engaged to my partner of three years. Not long after becoming engaged, I realized that after remaining abstinent from opioids for 4.5 years, my partner had returned to substance use. After struggling with his addiction and dealing with the shame that comes along with relapse, he then decided to start Medication for Opioid Use Disorder (MOUD), also known as Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Fast forward to 2021, and barriers to treatment prevented him from continuing with that method of treatment.  

On March 1, 2021, he became one of the 106,669 people that passed away from a drug-involved overdose in the U.S. that year.  

My world came to a screeching halt.  

I replayed everything in my mind and tried to think of how I could have prevented this from happening or how I could prevent it from happening to anyone else. I had already been accepted into graduate school and was set to begin in May. I followed through with my plan, and my area of concentration in grad school focused on addiction.  

I always knew that I wanted to work with clients who had been impacted by addiction in some way, but now the fight was personal.  

Becoming an Advocate for Those Struggling with Substance Use

I joined the Opioid Treatment Program at SouthLight as a counselor because I wanted to be part of a team that was working on the front lines helping those with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD).  One of our core values at SouthLight is the commitment to meet people where they are no matter where they are on their journey and to offer them the individual care they desperately need, regardless of their ability to pay.

The World Health Organization has called MOUD “one of the most effective types of pharmacological therapy of opioid dependence.” My story did not end due to losing my loved one to an overdose; my story began. I will always advocate to end the stigma that comes along with the disease of addiction and honor those that we lost along the way.   

Learn More About SouthLight’s Substance Use Services

Learn more about SouthLight’s services, from Medication Assisted Treatment, to individual and group counseling, to support from a peer who has been through recovery. Read more on SouthLight’s approach to substance use treatment here.

Join Us on International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) Aug. 31

Join us in Raleigh on August 31 at the 7th annual IOAD NC Raleigh Remembrance Event and Candlelight Vigil as we honor those lost to substance-related causes. Visit the Facebook page for additional details.


Lauren Ray LCSW LCAS SouthLight

About Lauren Ray, LCSW, LCAS

Lauren Ray is a counselor in SouthLight’s Opioid Treatment Program. She is a licensed clinical social worker associate and a licensed clinical addiction specialist. Lauren has a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW) with an emphasis in substance use and addiction recovery from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Before earning her MSW, she had experience working with those with substance use disorder (SUD) for over ten years.