Life-saving statewide coalition shifts the narrative on International Overdose Awareness Day

CASEP celebrates the ‘sheroes’/’theyroes’/heroes saving lives across CA


SACRAMENTO, CA, August 30, 2023 — Over 60 harm reduction programs that make up the California Syringe Exchange Programs (CASEP) Coalition are taking collective action August 31 on International Overdose Awareness Day to focus on creating a safe space for participants, staff, volunteers, and community members to celebrate and grieve while simultaneously addressing stigma. We want to change the narrative and highlight the lives saved by the real first responders and the different roles played by all our intersecting community members.


Overdose deaths continue to rise and the gaps in health equity are not getting any smaller. There is an overwhelming increase of anti-bodily autonomy legislation, criminalization, harassment, violence, and overall “not in my backyard” attitude across the state. There has been an expressed need to heal, celebrate the lives of loved ones, and uplift and acknowledge the lives that have been saved by community.


Syringe service programs (SSPs) from across the state will host gatherings and memorials Thursday to bring together those who have survived overdose, those who have been affected, and those who are the most frequent first responders to overdose — community members and peers. Events will include memorials of those who have passed, celebration of lives saved, and recognition of how the community steps up for and saves one another.


Many look at people who use drugs, people who are experiencing being houseless, people who engage in sex work, and people who have been previously incarcerated as “non-contributing members of society.” We aim to change that tired, stigmatizing narrative and shine light on how the individuals being looked at in this way are the ones taking care of one another and truly healing the community.


Recent funding made it possible for the above mentioned “sheroes”/”theyroes”/heroes to reverse nearly 40,000 overdoses over the past three years alone. Over 22,000 people were trained to reverse overdoses and keep people alive, with 95% of people using life-saving naloxone provided by the programs organizing the day’s events.


Funding harm reduction programs has measurable, tangible public health benefits. An evaluation by National Harm Reduction Coalition (NHRC) found that CHRI grantees offered services at over 1,500 locations across 42 counties serving approximately 75,000 Californians — a ten percent increase since the pilot’s launch. Read more here about this data here:


About harm reduction and addressing racism and other barriers: Racial and ethnic disparities in overdose were rising in California before the pandemic, but COVID-19 exacerbated these disparities, leading to a doubling of overdose death among Black Californians and the largest relative increases in overdose death among Latino/x and Indigenous communities – over 60% each. See link here for more:


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unequal access to substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and stigma contribute to the disproportionate increase in overdose death rates among Black, American Indian, and Alaskan Native people.