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Over 107,000 Overdose Deaths In 2021: Why Congress Must Urgently Support Harm Reduction Services

In response to new CDC provisional overdose counts showing there were over 107,000 overdose deaths in 2021, a 15% increase from 2020, Jules Netherland, PhD, Managing Director of the Department of Research & Academic Engagement at the Drug Policy Alliance released the following statement:

“Once again, we are devastated by these numbers. Over 107,000 of our friends, family and neighbors lost their lives to drug overdose last year. And sadly, we know the numbers will only continue to climb unless our policymakers actually do what is necessary to curb them. The United States has spent over 50 years and well over a trillion dollars on criminalization – and this is where it has gotten us. It’s clearly not working. It’s time we start investing where it actually matters – in our communities, specifically Black, Latinx and Indigenous communities where we are now seeing the sharpest rise in overdose deaths. The evidence shows us, that in order to actually make a difference, we have to replace these approaches with those centered in public health, such as drug decriminalization coupled with increased access to evidence-based treatment and harm reduction services, overdose prevention centers, and legal regulation and safer supply to reduce the likelihood of accidental overdose.

“We are grateful that the Biden Administration has embraced harm reduction as part of their National Drug Control Strategy, but we need to see that commitment met with Congressional funding and a massive scaling up of these health services. It’s also essential that Overdose Prevention Centers be implemented, which decades of evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies and utilization in over 14 countries show us are one of the most effective ways to save lives now. Since opening the nation’s first overdose prevention center in New York, OnPoint has reversed more than 270 overdoses in just the first five months of operation, tracking outcomes at other centers worldwide.

“While it may not always be politically convenient, it’s time to be guided by the evidence about what works. Overdose deaths are avoidable and a policy failure—it’s time we stop recycling the same policies that got us here and take the actions that are necessary to save lives.”

Photo by Elijah Mears on Unsplash

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