With seven consecutive years of increasing overdose deaths, advocates honor the lives lost from the overdose crisis, and demand action from Governor Cuomo.
Albany, NY: Capital Region advocates and families impacted by the overdose crisis took to the state capitol today observe International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) by remembering those lost to overdose, and demand action to prevent future deaths. The regional rally was part of a statewide effort to raise awareness about the crisis of overdose fatalities.
Nationally, overdose is the leading cause of death for people under 50, and the crisis is taking more lives a year than car crashes or gun deaths. In New York State, overdose now takes more lives than suicides, homicides, and traffic accidents combined. From 2013 to 2015, over 7,200 New Yorkers died of overdose. The New York State Department of Health has noted a substantial increase of overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016.
International Overdose Awareness Day, held every year on August 31st, is used to raise awareness, reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths, remember those who have died or suffered permanent injury because of drug overdose and stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy. In New York, groups working with the End Overdose NY campaign–a state-wide coalition of harm reduction organizations, people in recovery, families who lost loved ones to overdose, and drug policy reform advocates—is demanding the state invest in universal access to life-saving public health interventions, innovative strategies for an evolving epidemic, and public education that provides information and hope to struggling families and communities.
The campaign observed IOAD with direct actions throughout the state, including in the Capitol Region, with a rally at the capital.
“The most recent national statistics reveal that 72,000 died in 2016 from drug-related deaths, and that number is expected to continue to grow. This is a public health crisis unlike any we’ve seen. As we remember the family members, friends, and neighbors we’ve lost, we also demand immediate action and say “not one more” to our elected officials,” said Keith Brown, Director of Health and Harm Reduction at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice, one of the event’s organizers.
“With seven years of increasing overdose rates, our elected officials must act with urgency to address the crisis through a compassionate, public health approaches,” said Jasmine Budnella, Drug Policy Coordinator at VOCAL-NY. “The coalition demands universal access to medication-assisted treatment–including in prisons/jails and hospital settings; rapidly increased funding for statewide naloxone and harm reduction programs and policies; the creation of 20,000 supportive housing units; and the expansion of pre-arrest diversion programs across the state.”
Dr. Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice has also encouraged people in the community to think differently about drug overdose. “While the narrative about the opioid crisis has centered largely on white suburban people, drug-related harm and death has always, and continues to disproportionately impact black and brown communities. We demand that all current and future actions to address this crisis understand that and adequately address the needs of all citizens.”
A main pillar of the End Overdose NY platform is investments in harm reduction and medication-assisted treatments like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. “Harm Reduction strategies such as Naloxone training, Medication Assisted Treatment on demand, and Community Education play a vital role in decreasing overdose death risk. Through investment in these and other innovative harm reduction programming we can positively impact the health outcomes of People Who Use Drugs” said Stephanie Lao, Executive Director of Project Safe Point.
Diana Aguglia, Regional Director at the Alliance for Positive Health echoed that sentiment. “It’s time to change the landscape of addiction. We need to hear more stories of hope and recovery. We need more resources invested in what we know works which includes harm reduction and Medication Assisted Treatment.”
“When we talk about investments in harm reduction resources, we need to be clear that this includes dramatic increases in the availability of syringe exchange and naloxone, but also immediate implementation of safer consumption spaces/overdose prevention sites. Elected officials and the general public need to hear that we already know from other countries that these services work to prevent disease, improve access to treatment, address public nuisance, and bring marginalized people into care. Further, we must move beyond opioids and begin deploying public health interventions for cocaine, crack, stimulants, benzodiazepines, synthetic cannabis products like K2, and other substances” said Keith Brown.
People active in the recovery community are also calling for answers that focus on immediate health and safety to stem the tide of drug-related deaths and overdose. Cortney Lovell, Recovery Advocate and co-founder of Our Wellness Collective states, “Overdose deaths have become a crisis we cannot ignore. Recovery and wellness will never be achieved if we cannot keep people alive long enough to seek care.”
Similarly, families who have lost loved ones to overdose demand sensible responses to prevent others from experiencing grief and loss. According to Alexis Pleus of the group Truth Pharm, “Truth Pharm is thankful to be joining our End Overdose NY Allies at the Capital to memorialize our loved ones, but we do not want our losses to be in vain. We need action to end overdose in New York so that no other family has to face this devastating loss. Truth Pharm will be there in full force to send that clear message.”
Co-founders of Families for Sensible Drug Policy, Carol Katz Beyer and Barry Lessin shared: “2018 has been a year of many challenges. We have lots of families enduring injustices and suffering because of the shame and stigma surrounding people using substances. And we are fighting back in protest against these violations of human rights and dignity. FSDP is privileged to come together in hearts and minds with our friends at partners in New York State and unite in solidarity with stakeholders and partners around the world. On this heartfelt day of remembrance and connection we mourn the passing of loved ones lost to overdose and fight to demand public health solutions for the lives of those who remain at risk
To learn about the End Overdose NY Coalition visit www.endoverdoseny.org and search #EndOverdoseNY
To find out more about International Overdose Awareness Day visit: www.overdoseday.com.