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Vital Stories

The Tragic Loss of Actor Michael K. Williams and Why We Must End the Overdose Crisis  

By the Overdose Prevention Program  
Recently, the American Journal for Public Health confirmed what many Black harm reduction advocates and practitioners have suspected for the past year:  Overdose deaths are slightly declining for white Americans, but continue to increase for Black Americans. This study was published a few weeks before beloved actor Michael K. Williams passed away on September 6, 2021, from a fatal overdose. The actor had previously been vocal about his experiences with drug use and the need for more accessible and widely available harm reduction services.  

Dionna King, Program Manager for the Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program joined the hosts of theGrio’s “Dear Culture” podcast to discuss the tragic loss of Michael K. Williams, the ways race, racism, and the war on drugs contribute to fatal overdoses in Black communities, harm reduction services and the need for larger cultural shifts and perception on drug use. 

Dionna King, Program Manager for the Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program

Dionna explained: “We’ve lost 93,000 people this year to overdose. And I think the one takeaway I want everyone to absorb is that overdose deaths are policy failures, these are preventable deaths… What we need to do is start putting forward interventions that work like safe consumption places and harm reduction supplies and resources.”  

You can listen to the full episode below and hear more of Dionna’s suggestions on how we can move forward to slow – and ultimately end – the overdose crisis. Conversation begins at 21:25.  

About Harm Reduction 

On its 50th anniversary, it is time for the failed war on drugs to be confined to the dustbin of history and to invest in a public health, harm reduction approach that supports people who use drugs instead of punishing them. Harm reduction does this. Harm reduction strategies prioritize health and safety with tools like naloxone for overdose reversal, buprenorphine and methadone for opioid dependence treatment, and syringe service programs for safer injecting. Harm reduction is the public health approach we need to overturn the war on drugs. 

Learn more about what harm reduction looks like in practice – and hear proposed solutions to what can be done about the overdose crisis – visit Love & Dignity – Portraits from the Front Lines of the Overdose Crisis.  

Learn more about our Overdose Prevention Program and follow us on Twitter at @VitalStrat.