Groups Across the Country are Mounting Local Efforts to Address Rising Tide of Overdose with Harm Reduction
For International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) on August 31, public health organization Vital Strategies and hundreds of organizations and government agencies across the country are mounting community memorial events and rallying support for harm reduction services to stem the rising tide of overdose, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in each of the past two years.
“August 31, Overdose Awareness Day, is an important time to honor the lives of family and friends who we have tragically lost to overdose, now the leading cause of death for people under 50 in this country,” said Tony Newman, Communications Director at Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program. “Inspired by the AIDS quilt, we are turning grief and anger into action. The Support Harm Reduction campaign is mobilizing communities across the country to build support for harm reduction, the proven public health solution to the overdose crisis.”
The week of IOAD will feature diverse events across the country, ranging from rallies and vigils to events at firehouses to community centers, health clinics and harm reduction centers.
Vital Strategies mailed out 300 “DIY Boxes” to groups in more than 21 states that offer a menu of campaign content and products to organize events, including: digital resources like an online overdose memorial, localized state videos on the overdose crisis and harm reduction interventions to reduce deaths and suffering, in addition to various physical items to display and distribute. At each site, campaign supporters will generate visibility through tables, banners, and leaflets, and will work with local media outlets to garner attention. A sample of events to be held include:
· Raleigh, North Carolina: Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s Youth Overdose Prevention Fellows are organizing events in five counties across North Carolina. One event focused on overdose prevention and awareness among indigenous community members will take place at the Coharie Tribal Center in Sampson County on August 31, and will include traditional song and dance, and a talking circle for young people who have been impacted by the overdose crisis in their communities.
· Milwaukee, Wisconsin: A broad coalition, including the Office of African American Affairs and the nonprofit Samad’s House are organizing families, friends and survivors of overdose to connect with community organizations, memorialize their lost loved ones, and receive resources for preventing overdose death, including naloxone and fentanyl test strips. The first of three events is at Samad’s House on August 31 at 10 am and will include art, painting and a grief counselor on hand.
· Peoria, Illinois: Jolt Harm Reduction and a coalition of groups including Broken No More and GRASP are organizing a vigil and cookout on August 31, 5-8 pm. The event will include families who have lost loved ones and harm reduction providers who are speaking in favor of harm reduction and opposed to the criminalization of people who use drugs.
“I lost my son Joshua to overdose and have dedicated my life since then to helping other families who have lost loved ones to overdose,” said Tami Olt, executive director of Broken No More and GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing). “On Overdose Awareness Day, we are organizing a vigil in Peoria with the theme ‘Because No One is Disposable’ to both remember our loved ones and also demand harm reduction services and compassion instead of punishment and criminalization of people who use drugs.”
Campaign proponents believe that every person in the U.S. should have access to harm reduction services. Harm reduction is a non-coercive approach that empowers people who use drugs to reduce the risk of death and disease. The Support Harm Reduction campaign calls for support and universal access to five specific interventions: Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses; Drug checking resources such as fentanyl test strips; Safer drug use supplies such as sterile syringes; Overdose prevention centers for supervised use, and; Methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder.
“We’re proud to join arms with our brothers and sisters across the country and co-host Milwaukee’s Overdose Awareness Day events,” said Tahira Malik, founder of Samad’s House. “We will share with people in our community how to use lifesaving harm reduction services like naloxone and fentanyl test strips and empower them with the tools to save a life. We will also make clear that we need policymakers to support the expansion of these services so that everyone can have access to them.”
The International Overdose Awareness Day national action is part of an award-winning “Support Harm Reduction” multimedia campaign that highlights key interventions that are proven to save lives, but remain difficult to access for most people in the United States. A central component of the Support Harm Reduction campaign is an interactive online memorial honoring the lives of people who have died from a drug overdose.
The Support Harm Reduction campaign launched in February 2022 with a full-page print ad in The New York Times, featuring 200 people on the front lines of the overdose crisis working in harm reduction. Three video ads featuring overdose prevention advocates whose lives were saved by harm reduction, aired 6,000 times in and around Washington, D.C. on a range of channels including CNN, BET, ESPN and on YouTube, Hulu and podcasts garnering 44 million impressions to date.
For more information about the Support Harm Reduction campaign, visit: https://www.supportharmreduction.org/
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our overdose prevention program works to strengthen and scale evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to create equitable and sustainable reductions in overdose deaths.
To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.