CONTACT: Tony Newman, Vital Strategies, TNewman@VitalStrategies.org, 646-335-5384
#SupportHarmReduction and #OverdoseMemorial
New Online Memorial Honors More Than One Million Lives Lost to Overdose
(New York, NY, February 14, 2022) – A new, interactive, online memorial was launched today by the public health organization Vital Strategies to honor those who have lost their lives to a drug overdose—more than one million in the past two decades in the U.S.—far surpassing car crashes and firearm fatalities combined. Inspired by the AIDS quilt, the digital mosaic allows anyone to commemorate a loved one lost to overdose, and calls for urgent action in their name.
The memorial’s launch is accompanied by the largest-ever national advertising campaign promoting harm reduction to raise awareness about common-sense ways to save lives, such as distributing the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone to people who use drugs and their loved ones. Following the national launch, Vital Strategies will share the campaign in some of the states hardest-hit by the overdose crisis, including using technology that will allow the memorial to be projected onto buildings.
“The AIDS quilt turned grief into demand for change, forcing the country to confront the mounting HIV/AIDS epidemic with the urgency it required. With overdose deaths topping 100,000 a year, we are beyond the moment of reckoning with our failure to address drug use as a health issue,” said Dr. Daliah Heller, Vice President of Drug Use Initiatives at Vital Strategies. “We hope the overdose memorial offers an opportunity for those touched by this tragedy to share their stories and join in the call to support the public health solution to the overdose crisis: harm reduction.”
The campaign is funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of their initiative to tackle the overdose epidemic in the United States.
“At Bloomberg Philanthropies, we believe in promoting evidence-based interventions to ensure longer, better lives for the greatest number of people—harm reduction does just that,” said Dr. Kelly Henning, who leads the public health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The rising number of overdose deaths is devastating communities around the U.S. so it’s urgent that public health solutions such as harm reduction interventions are widely supported and implemented. Too often underfunded, such community-led, evidence-driven interventions like naloxone distribution and syringe service programs are critical and must receive increased support to help save lives.”
Every 5-and-a-half minutes someone dies from a drug overdose in the U.S. More than 100,000 people died in the past year alone—the highest number on record. Many of these tragedies could have been prevented if harm reduction measures were in place and at scale. Although the Biden Administration began funding harm reduction last year, most federal- and state-directed overdose prevention efforts do not focus on these proven, life-saving measures.
The goal of this public awareness initiative is to build support for harm reduction measures such as: fentanyl test strips and other drug checking tools so that people can test for harmful additives in drugs; sterile syringes and other safer drug use supplies to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C; naloxone in community hands to reverse fatal overdoses; methadone and buprenorphine access for those struggling with opioid dependence; and overdose prevention centers, such as those recently opened in New York.
“We need a wholesale shift away from the punitive, carceral approach to drug use, and toward public health strategies rooted in compassion and dignity ,” said Heller. “We need state and federal governments to fund community-led harm reduction services at the scale of the overdose crisis, and to remove legal barriers to harm reduction measures, such as the distribution of supplies for safer drug use.”
Anyone impacted by this crisis can upload a photo or words about a loved one directly through SupportHarmReduction.org, or through Instagram by posting a photo that uses the hashtag #OverdoseMemorial.
The $500,000 advertising campaign promoting harm reduction will launch with a full page ad in the New York Times featuring 200 real people working in harm reduction, on the front lines of the overdose crisis. Three video ads featuring overdose prevention advocates whose own lives were saved by harm reduction will air 6,000 times in and around Washington, D.C. on a range of channels including: CNN, BET, ESPN, YouTube, Hulu and various podcasts, totaling 37 million impressions.
Quotes from the TV Ads Featuring Real Harm Reduction Outreach Workers on the Frontlines:
“I believe in harm reduction because it saves lives,” said Nicole Sage, an outreach worker at Prevention Point Philadelphia. “A lot of my friends would be alive today if they had access to naloxone, if they had access to fentanyl test strips. Harm reduction saved my life.”
“People who use drugs are somebody’s father, mother, brother or sister. Somebody out there loves them,” says Terrell Jones, Outreach and Advocacy Program Manager at New York Harm Reduction Educators.
“I contracted Hepatitis C from shared needles,” said Acxel Barboza from the Washington Heights CORNER Project in another ad. “When I got introduced to harm reduction, little by little I started making changes in my life. It took me out of the misery I was living in.”
Interviews are available with experts on this issue and those featured in the ad campaign.
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About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. 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.