As Overdose Deaths Hit A Record High, Here’s What I Need You To Know

'I was 8 years old the first time I took an opiate — an expired painkiller I found in our medicine cabinet with a 'May cause drowsiness' label.'

Drug Policy, Harm Reduction

11/26/2021 6:02:00 PM

'I was 8 years old the first time I took an opiate — an expired painkiller I found in our medicine cabinet with a 'May cause drowsiness' label.'

'I was 8 years old the first time I took an opiate — an expired painkiller I found in our medicine cabinet with a 'May cause drowsiness' label.'

AdvertisementWhat was different about this email was that this stranger wanted to know if I remembered her sister or what her sister had written to me a few months earlier. She explained that her sister recommended my book to their mom to explain what she was going through. Their mom wanted to thank me for helping her understand and for making her daughter feel seen.

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She also told me her sister recently died of an overdose.A buzz of sadness and memory raced through me as I searched back through my DMs, looking for her sister’s message. I found it. She’d told me she was struggling, that she felt so ashamed, that she was trying to get help. She thanked me for writing the book. She’d said I’d given her hope. We exchanged a few messages, and she died a month later.

As I read over our messages back and forth, I felt gutted. I didn’t know her, but I knew her pain. That could have been me. I’dwhen I was in my years of active addiction. A friend’s rescue breathing saved me. If she hadn’t been there, I’d be dead.Advertisement

That was 23 years ago. I cannot count the number of friends I’ve lost since then to addiction, not to mention people like this young woman who reached out, who didn’t make it.And the numbers are accelerating.Thejust released provisional data showing more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths from April 2020 to April 2021. Let that number land: 100,000 deaths.

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The thing is, these deaths are preventable. Our drug policies are killing people.AdvertisementI’ve been hopeful, seeing the Biden administration’s movement toward embracing harm reduction. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a recent

interviewthat the HHS would be supporting clean needle exchange programs and the dispensation of fentanyl testing strips.This is a significant step forward, but it was concerning that the Biden administration appointed Rahul Gupta as the nation’s new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This is the guy who was a key player in shutting down West Virginia’s largest needle exchange program and has backed legislation that would effectively terminate all of West Virginia’s harm reduction programs. All the while, the state has had a boom in HIV outbreaks and drug overdose deaths. After being sworn in last week, Gupta appears to be shifting his stance, saying in

an interview with NPR, “I believe what we are doing right now is to continue to improve and increase the number of harm-reduction practices that have clear evidence behind them.”

Read more: HuffPost »

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