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New CDC Numbers Show Catastrophic 16% Increase in Overdose Deaths from 2020 to 2021 

New CDC Numbers Show Catastrophic 16% Increase in Overdose Deaths from 2020 to 2021 

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

May 11, 2022— More than 107,000 people died of drug overdoses last year, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a single calendar year in the United States, according to new CDC numbers released today.   More people are dying from an overdose than from gunshot wounds and traffic crashes combined. 

Statement from Daliah Heller, Vice President 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 potent illicit drug supply, and an overwhelmed and under-resourced public health system have driven the overdose crisis to catastrophic levels. 

“What we’re doing now isn’t working, because the decades-old punitive response to drug use still predominates: The transition to a health-first, harm reduction approach has been slow and piecemeal. Anemic levels of funding and policy support are woefully insufficient to stem the tide of overdose we are experiencing. These data are an urgent call to action for government at all levels: we need to mount a massive public health response to overdose that centers harm reduction and support instead of criminalization and punishment for people who use drugs.  

“Far too few people have access to any of the five key interventions we know will reduce overdose deaths: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. Most of these services are available in some form, in some locations in the majority of states, but they all need to be massively scaled up with an emergency investment. Until such actions are taken, the continued escalation of this overdose crisis seems inevitable. 

“No more than one decade ago, misconceptions and stigma about drug use would have made investments in harm reduction strategies politically difficult. But the overdose crisis is truly a bipartisan issue, with overdose deaths touching every community and family. Attitudes about drug use are changing. Our ‘Support Harm Reduction’ campaign has been seen more than 32 million times to date and the candid testimonials of everyday people who have benefited from harm reduction services are almost universally celebrated.  

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

Background: Vital Strategies National Campaign Highlights Five Proven Harm Reduction Interventions   

In February, Vital Strategies launched “Support Harm Reduction,” a campaign to highlight five key interventions for preventing overdose that many people in the United States still don’t have access to: naloxone, drug checking resources, medications for opioid use disorder, safer drug use supplies, and overdose prevention centers. 

The campaign has been seen more than 32 million times to date and audience metrics indicate widespread approval. The campaign features an interactive, online memorial to honor those who have lost their lives to drug overdose – more than one million in the past two decades in the U.S..    

 The memorial’s launch was accompanied by the largest-ever national advertising campaign promoting harm reduction, beginning 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 advocates whose own lives were saved by harm reduction is airing 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.    

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.  

For Immediate Release:  May 11, 2022 

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