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Vital Stories

On Overdose Awareness Day, Communities Honor Loved Ones and Support Harm Reduction

Vital Strategies

By Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro

International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31, is both a time to honor loved ones who have been lost to a drug overdose and a time to draw attention to the overdose crisis. To mark the day, Vital Strategies and hundreds of organizations and government agencies across the country are mounting community memorial events and rallying support for harm reduction services.

Events are taking place across the country all week, ranging from rallies and vigils to events at firehouses, community centers, health clinics and harm reduction centers. Vital Strategies mailed out 300 “DIY Boxes” to groups in more than 21 states, offering a menu of content and products to organize events. These include banners and educational leaflets about harm reduction services, as well as digital resources such as an online overdose memorial, state-specific videos on the overdose crisis, and overdose prevention education flyers.

Some of the local events include:

  • A broad coalition in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, including the city’s Office of African American Affairs and the nonprofit Samad’s House, is organizing families, friends and survivors of overdose to connect with community organizations, memorialize their lost loved ones, and receive resources for preventing overdose deaths.
  • Jolt Harm Reduction and a coalition of groups including Broken No More and GRASP are organizing a vigil and cookout in Peoria, Illinois. The event will include families who have lost loved ones and harm reduction providers speaking out against the criminalization of people who use drugs and in support of harm reduction.

This International Overdose Awareness Day national action is an extension of the Vital Strategies’ award-winning “Support Harm Reduction” multimedia campaign, which highlights key interventions that are proven to save lives but remain difficult to access for most people in the United States. The DIY boxes include important materials about:

  • Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses;
  • Drug-checking resources such as fentanyl test strips;
  • Safer drug use supplies such as sterile syringes;
  • Overdose prevention centers for supervised use, and;
  • Methadone and buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder. 

Another central component of the Support Harm Reduction campaign is an interactive online memorial honoring the lives of people who have died from a drug overdose. During the local events, attendees are encouraged to submit their own stories to the memorial. 

In 2022, for the second year in a row, more than 105,000 people died from a drug overdose in the United States, and it remains the leading cause of death for people under 50. To stem the rising tide of overdose, it is crucial to mobilize communities and support organizations on the frontlines of harm reduction work.

On International Overdose Awareness Day, we remember our loved ones lost to overdose, and celebrate and honor their memories through this national action. Vital Strategies is working with communities across the country to ignite change, save lives, and end preventable overdose deaths. 

Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro is the content manager for Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program. 

About Vital Strategies   

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our overdose prevention program works to strengthen and scale evidence-based, data-driven policies and interventions to create equitable and sustainable reductions in overdose deaths. Work across seven U.S. States is supported by funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies Overdose Prevention Initiative, launched in 2018, and by targeted investments from other partners.   

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