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Available for interview: As overdose deaths top 93,000, concern that key public health response will remain unsupported. 

Ahead of of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31,  Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, is  available for interviews.

More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year, and an increase of 29% over 2019. COVID-19 has exacerbated the overdose crisis, with every state in the country save two registering an increase in deaths.   

Recent litigation settlements with pharmaceutical companies, alongside continued federal funding to the states, will bring billions of dollars to fight the crisis. But whether much of these funds will go to harm reduction services, a key public health response, remains uncertain. In a backlash environment, despite the science and compassion underlying this approach, there is ample concern that harm reduction remains largely unsupported. 

“The combined pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels. Billions of dollars are being marshalled in a massive response. Governments need to avoid investing in the failed, punitive approaches that have failed to stem the escalating crisis, and instead support a massive public health response to overdose that emphasizes harm reduction and support for people who use drugs.” 

– Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies 

In anticipation of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31,  Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies, is  available for interviews to address the following topics and more:  

  • What has caused such a steep increase in the number of overdose deaths in the United States, over the past year and in the past decade?    
  • What is the role of COVID in the rising number of drug overdoses in 2020? 
  • How have the dominant responses to overdose failed and what is the role of harm reduction strategies? 
  • What role should opioid settlement money play in responding to the overdose crisis?  
  • What immediate steps can governments take to address the overdose crisis?    
  • What immediate steps can communities take to address the overdose crisis? 
  • What can be done to address the rising number of overdose deaths in the Black community and the racial disparities in drug arrests and criminalization?    
  • What can be done about the systemic and structural racism that shapes the behavior of the criminal justice and the healthcare systems, alike?    



COVID-19 Resources for People Who Drugs. Higher Ground Harm Reduction, Reynolds Strategies and Vital Strategies have created a toolkit made up of informative fact sheets and resources for people who use drugs, sex workers and stakeholders likely to engage with vulnerable populations.  

A Guide for People Who Use Drugs Alone. Vital Strategies and our partners at Project Safe have created a guide for people who use drugs to provide insights on how to be safer when using drugs alone.  

About Vital Strategies   
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible.   

To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.   

About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program   
In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping up to 10 states implement solutions over three years to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives.    

Media Contacts:

Tony Newman; 646-335-5384  
Christina Honeysett; 914-424-3356