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Catastrophic Increase in Overdose Deaths in 2020 Demands Urgent Action

Vital Strategies Calls for Massive Surge in Government Funding and Support for Harm Reduction to Stem the Record Surge in Overdose Deaths

July 15, 2021— More than 93,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single year in the United States, and an increase of 29% – almost one third – over 2019. Every U.S. State save two registered an increase in deaths, and the year also recorded the highest number ever of opioid-involved and fentanyl-involved overdose deaths. 

Statement from Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies: 

“New data from CDC has confirmed our worst fears. 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 epidemic to catastrophic levels. These data are an urgent call to action for federal, state, and local governments: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that emphasizes harm reduction and support instead of punishment for people who use drugs. 

“We need to prioritize a community-based response that includes syringe service programs, naloxone distribution, medications for opioid use disorder, and mobile outreach. It is time we stop investing in strategies that stigmatize and punish people for using drugs. 

“A massive surge in funding and support for this kind of public health response will save lives immediately, connecting people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The devastating rise in overdose deaths is falling most heavily on Black communities, where the need for relief now is more urgent than ever before.” 

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