Changing Course in the Overdose Crisis Moving from Punishment to Harm Reduction and Health

Changing Course Square

Overview

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and communities across the country are struggling to respond. But the punitive approach exemplified by the “war on drugs” has driven mass incarceration, exacerbated racial disparities within the criminal justice system, and devastated communities of color. The United States needs a new paradigm that prioritizes community health, harm reduction, and recovery. This report examines the intersection of problematic drug use and the criminal justice system. It offers practical guidance for practitioners, policymakers, and funders by compiling the wide range of interventions that communities can consider to minimize justice system contact for people who use drugs and improve public health and safety.




A Statement to the Harm Reduction Community

In June 2020, we at Vera learned of reports of abuse and harassment by Devin Reaves, co-founder and now former executive director of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition (PAHRC), toward sex workers, PAHRC staff and interns, women, and others in the harm reduction and drug policy movements. Although Devin Reaves was interviewed and quoted as an expert in our Changing Course report released in February 2020, we in no way condone abuse or harassment. Like others, we were saddened to learn about incidents of sexual harassment and violence. We stand with sex workers and survivors and acknowledge that we must do more to center the experiences and leadership of those who are directly impacted by the criminal legal system in our efforts to end mass incarceration, criminalization, and the harms of the “war on drugs.”

We are committed to supporting accountability and justice in this moment and in the future.

Additional statements for reference:

Philadelphia Red Umbrella Alliance

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition — Part I

Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition — Part II

Harm Reduction Coalition

Drug Policy Alliance

Key Takeaway

A new path forward requires bold leadership at the local level, where true transformation can occur, and sustained investment in community organizations led by people who are affected directly, centering racial equity and justice in all practices and policies.

Publication Highlights

  • People who use drugs or are directly impacted by drug use should be included in the development of policies and programmatic responses to the overdose crisis.

  • Police officers should support community-based harm reduction interventions, such as naloxone distribution, syringe service programs, and supervised consumption sites and they should also carry naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.

  • Legislation should focus on decriminalizing drug use and increasing resources and infrastructure for public health and community-based harm-reduction responses.

Key Facts

Related

Series: Target 2020

Justice is on the Ballot

We elect federal leaders, district attorneys, mayors, local legislators, and sheriffs—people who shape how our communities ensure public safety and secure justice.

Election Day is in six weeks, but in communities across the United States, voting for the 2020 election is already underway. In every race, from the federal to the state to the local level, it’s clear: Justice is on the ballot. Our votes can help ensure due process for immigrants facing deportation, address overpolicing in communities of color and ...

Blog Post
  • Nicholas Turner
    Nicholas Turner
September 22, 2020
Blog Post

No Access to Justice

Breaking the Cycle of Homelessness and Jail

On any given night in the United States, more than 550,000 people experience homelessness. The U.S. legal system criminalizes survival behaviors associated with homelessness and fails to acknowledge that people who are homeless face impossible odds within the legal process. Black people, who already face a disproportionate risk of homelessness, are ...

Publication
  • Madeline Bailey, Erica Crew, Madz Reeve
August 12, 2020
Publication