International Overdose Awareness Day 2018

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Greetings Beloved Harm Reduction Community: 


Today marks the 19th anniversary of International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held on August 31st each year that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death. Harm Reduction Coalition is proud to be part of a community that acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends, and remembers those of us who’ve died or have a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.


This year is particularly significant as we are all still grappling with the death of Dan Bigg, a pioneer of harm reduction in the United States who taught us that asking permission is less important than doing what is right.


Credit: Nigel Brunsdon

Dan co-founded and directed the Chicago Recovery Alliance, but his influence was felt far beyond Chicagoland. In the mid-nineties, he began handing out naloxone – the “pure antidote” for opioid overdose – to people who use drugs to empower them to save each other’s lives. Dan would show up at conferences with duffel bags of naloxone, giving others the chance to bring the lifesaving medicine home to their own communities, and inspiring countless programs in the United States and around the world. Thanks to his example, laypeople have reversed hundreds of thousands of overdoses. He didn’t wait for policymakers to come around to the idea – he just did it.


Dan didn’t believe in rules, regulations or laws that stood in the way of people’s survival, and he urged us all to ignore – or at the very least creatively interpret – them too. What is right is not always what is allowed by systems built on controlling the lives and survival of people who use drugs. Dan’s often repeated mantra of “Any Positive Change” truly summarizes his deep belief in the resilience and power of people to enact change, to establish and maintain autonomy over their own bodies and lives. Dan inspired generations of harm reductionists to not give up when things seemed incredibly difficult, when it seemed that the odds were stacked against us all. Any positive change, he would say. Any. Positive. Change.


Dan’s work was not limited to naloxone distribution. He found a way to do mobile methadone delivery despite the barriers; he was an early pioneer of syringe access; he traveled the globe in search of affordable hepatitis C treatment for people who needed it and implementing lay vaccination for hepatitis A/B during outreach; and before he died, he was working on developing drug checking resources for people who use drugs. Dan’s moral compass led him to do what is just even when it’s difficult or unpopular, and he encouraged  and cajoled others to do the same. He deeply appreciated and supported those who joined him in harm reduction work across the globe, and most especially the chosen family that comprises the Chicago Recovery Alliance.


In Dan’s spirit and to continue his legacy, Harm Reduction Coalition, in partnership with an incredibly generous donor, has created the Dan Bigg Any Positive Change Award for bold, radical harm reductionists who are creating positive change despite the odds – working in difficult environments, finding innovative and creative ways to get people the services they need, and advancing programs that center the voices and needs of people who use drugs.


At each National Harm Reduction Conference, we will choose one recipient whose organization will receive an award of $15,000. We encourage this funding to be used for efforts that forward the organization’s mission, including as a salary bonus for the person nominated. We pour so much of ourselves into this work, including our own time and money, and people deserve to get something back. We also encourage you to nominate as many people you think fit this description. The only requirement is that the people you nominate are affiliated with a US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit (or has a qualifying fiscal sponsor).


On behalf of everyone involved in conceptualizing this award, we thank you for your courage,  creativity, and commitment to advancing any positive change for people who use drugs. Dan would be proud.


In Solidarity,


Harm Reduction Coalition