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In Tragic First, Overdose Deaths Pass 100,000 in One Year

Vital Strategies Calls for Urgent Surge Support for Harm Reduction

November 18, 2021—According to the latest data from Centers for Disease Control, the number of overdose deaths has continued to rise dramatically in 2021. Under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time ever, more than 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in the last twelve months on record, through April 2021.

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

“100,000 lives lost is a tragic milestone, and an indictment of health and social systems that are failing to protect people who use drugs. Public health advocates have been ringing alarm bells for years as the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly toxic illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed public health system have created a crisis that only seems to grow.” said Daliah Heller, Director of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “Federal, state, and local governments need to mount a massive public health response to overdose, including both investing in harm reduction and increasing social supports for housing, food security, and decarceration.

Harm reduction – proven, community-based solutions that emphasize support instead of punishment for people who use drugs – is the public health response we need. It is time we stop investing in strategies that stigmatize and punish people for using drugs.

A massive surge in funding and support for harm reduction programs and services will save lives immediately, connecting people who use drugs with lifesaving resources and support. The devastating growth 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 2021, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a five-year, $120 million investment to help combat the overdose crisis in the hard-hit states of Kentucky, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The initiative builds on work of the past three years in Michigan and Pennsylvania, launched in 2018 with $50 million and expands the work to promote improved federal policies. The partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University, CDC Foundation, and Global Health Advocacy Incubator is helping to strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to reduce overdose risks and save lives.