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Amid Spike in Overdose Deaths Exacerbated by Failed Response to Pandemic, Groups Send Letter Urging Biden Team to Focus on Harm Reduction and Abandon Criminalization

Contact: Johanna Kichton, 202.660.0605, press@peoplesaction.org

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Over 200 drug policy, harm reduction, health care, and community based organizations from across the country today sent a letter to Rahul Gupta, Team Lead for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) on President-Elect Biden’s Transition Team. The letter urges the Biden administration to implement proven, bold solutions to curb the overdose crisis and begin dismantling the drug war. Led by People’s Action, VOCAL-NY, the Drug Policy Alliance, and National Harm Reduction Coalition, the letter also makes clear the disproportionate consequences the drug war and overdose crisis have on Black, Brown, and low-income communities, which have contributed to the U.S. leading the world in mass incarceration and preventable overdose deaths. 

“Like the President-elect, we too have watched the nation stigmatize our loved ones for substance use, and, instead of judging, we unconditionally love and support them. And, like the President-elect, we too have experienced the insurmountable grief brought on by the loss of family members,” the groups wrote. “It is our strong hope and belief that ending the drug war that has inflicted incredible harm in communities across this nation, and centering evidence-based solutions to address the overdose crisis, could be a great catalyst for a national transformation.”

In the letter, the groups outline immediate and longer-term policy recommendations based on to combat the overdose crisis and begin dismantling the drug war, such as:

  • Ground the ONDCP in evidence-based drug policies backed by science and public health approaches;
  • Commit the ONDCP to dismantling the drug war, advancing a national drug budget that prioritizes harm reduction, treatment and recovery and looks beyond enforcement and supply side strategies that only perpetuate mass incarceration, systemic racism and the failed drug war;
  • Include in FY22 budgets and future COVID relief packages dedicated funds to sustain harm reduction providers including syringe service programs;
  • Direct the Department of Justice (DOJ) to withdraw litigation challenging the operation of overdose prevention centers (OPCs), refrain from filing new lawsuits against or from prosecuting organizations that operate OPCs, and work with Congress to revise federal laws to permit the operation of OPCs; 
  • Permanently extend the SAMHSA/DEA COVID-19 accommodations for methadone and buprenorphine access (the gold standard for opioid use disorder treatment); and
  • Support policies that would eliminate requirements that inhibit practitioners to easily prescribe medication for opioid use disorder, prohibit state Medicaid programs from requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment, and include people directly impacted by the crisis to help decide where resources would be best targeted locally. 

The full text of the letter, which includes the 212 organizations that signed on, may be found here.

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People’s Action is a national network of 37 state and local grassroots, power-building organizations united in fighting for justice. We operate the largest progressive rural organizing project in the country. People’s Action and its member organizations coordinated one of the biggest distributed organizing programs in rural areas this election season. 

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Press Contact
Johanna Kichton

(202) 660-0605

About People’s Action Institute

Over five decades, People’s Action Institute and our affiliates have fought for reforms that recognize poor and working people’s dignity and make material and political improvements to millions of lives. Our victories include the Community Reinvestment Act, Superfund, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act and the MAT Act.

We engage in issue campaigns, public education and training to advance a long-term agenda for racial, economic and gender justice. Our focus now is on deepening community organizing so we can build lasting power across the country. 

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