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Overdose Call to Action: Harm Reduction Can End Preventable Overdose Deaths in California

August 30, 2017
For Immediate Release

Contact: Taeko Frost, Western Regional Director, Harm Reduction Coalition
(510) 763-3139
frost@harmreduction.org

Opioid overdose claimed the lives of 1,925 Californians in 2016, yet overdose deaths are preventable. At least 10 cities across the state will be organizing public events to raise awareness and support family and friends of those lost to overdose.

“The rise of drug overdose fatalities is off the charts and we’re losing people at rates never before seen in this country,” says Monique Tula, Executive Director of Harm Reduction Coalition.

“Week after week, we hear of our friends and loved ones dying from overdoses – when will it end? Now, more than ever, we need harm reduction-based policies and life-saving tools that prevent fatal overdose, including expanded access to naloxone, supervised drug consumption services, and effective treatment options for mental health and substance use disorders.”

California is a national leader in advocating for and implementing evidence-based interventions. To prevent fatal overdose, California has expanded access to naloxone, introduced the state bill AB186 sponsored by Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman to authorize supervised drug consumption services (SCS), and expanded access to medication assisted treatment through the recent hub-and-spoke initiative. We have the tools to prevent overdose and end the epidemic, but they must be expanded across the state.

People who use drugs are saving other people who use drugs with naloxone, a medication to reverse an opioid overdose. Harm Reduction Coalition’s Drug Overdose Prevention Education (DOPE) Project coordinates the distribution of naloxone to people who use drugs and other potential overdose bystanders in collaboration with 14 San Francisco providers, including SFAF, Glide, Drug Users Union, St. James Infirmary, Homeless Youth Alliance, At the Crossroads, Martin De Porres, UCSF’s UFO and VIP studies, Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, Shanti HIV services, SFHOT, the SF County Jail Health Services, and SFDPH’s SURU and CHRT programs. “In 2016 we collectively trained and distributed naloxone to 1,624 people, and gave 2,130 naloxone refills,” says Eliza Wheeler, Overdose Prevention Strategist for the Harm Reduction Coalition.

“Our trained participants reported 883 successful overdose reversals, and an astounding 66% of these reversals occurred outside in public places, including parks, public restrooms, cars, parking lots, public buildings, alleys, sidewalks and encampments – compared to 12% of reversals that occurred outside in 2010.”

Across the bay, HIV Education and Prevention Project of Alameda County (HEPPAC) operates a similar naloxone program. The program’s coordinator, Savannah O’Neill, says “This year we’ve seen increasing national attention to the opioid crisis deaths and in honor of Overdose Awareness Day we want to draw attention to what we see as life-saving solutions. Join us as we march through First Friday with balloons to demonstrate the number of lives saved and the work being done in the East Bay. This is a call to action that each of us as the potential to prevent overdose deaths and support compassionate, evidence based strategies.”

California may become the first state in the country to pass a state bill to provide a legal framework to authorize safer drug consumption services (SCS), an overdose prevention strategy through which people can bring pre-obtained drugs to use in a hygienic environment under the supervision of trained health personnel. The services also offer a space to engage with providers to connect to other services, including housing placement, medical, and drug treatment. There are over 100 sites in operation around the world, with more opening in Canada to combat the overdose epidemic. “The United States is decades behind other countries that have adopted supervised drug consumption services into their continuum of care to save lives,” says Dr. Taeko Frost, Harm Reduction Coalition’s Western Regional Director. “California has been a leader in innovation and public health. We have the tools to end the overdose epidemic and we need elected officials to step up in support of evidence-based interventions.” The bill will head to the Senate for a floor vote in the coming weeks.

San Francisco will host a public awareness event in Civic Center on August 31st from 12-2pm. Oakland will lead a public awareness action to highlight the 190 reported lives saved due to the naloxone program by carrying 190 balloons through First Friday on September 1st from 6:00-8:00pm. Events across the state are listed in the International Overdose Awareness Day website.

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