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A Call to Invest in Expanding Life-Saving Harm Reduction Services

Aug 31, 2023

Every day 18 New Yorkers die from preventable overdoses. 

In observance of International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD), Health Justice’s founder and Executive Director, Dr. Oni Blackstock, was invited by VOCAL-NY to speak at a press rally urging public officials to invest in systems of care, harm reduction, and social services

IOAD is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died from overdose, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. 

Read Dr. Blackstock’s press rally remarks below:

A grandmother who is able to pick up her grandkids after school and take them for ice cream

A young man who is proud that he is able to hold down a job and support himself

A middle-aged woman excited to finally able to go on a cruise with her family

These are a few of my patients who – through access to comprehensive harm reduction services and medication-assisted treatment and other health and social services – are living full lives and thriving.

I am a primary care and HIV doctor.

I am also a member of New York Docs, a coalition of healthcare workers and advocates in the New York area working alongside our patients and communities to improve the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers.

I have prescribed buprenorphine, given out naloxone kits to my patients, carried a kit of my own, connected my patients to other harm reduction services, written scripts for new syringes for my patients who were using.

I understand intimately the costs to communities, to families, of losing their loved ones to something that is entirely preventable, an overdose.

As a health care provider and public health practitioner, I know that:

Harm reduction is public health

Overdose prevention is public health

It is a public health imperative that resources be invested into systems of care, systems of humane, person-centered, community-centered care.

We need resources put back into our communities, into funding comprehensive harm reduction services, into treatment for those who want it, into social services such as housing, outreach, and wrap-around services.

We need resources divested from systems of punishment and harm – such as policing and incarceration – that criminalize and stigmatize substance use.

This is one of the reasons that NY Docs has drafted a letter urging Gov Hochul to sign an executive order to authorize overdose prevention centers (OPCs) in communities across New York State that are experiencing high rates of fatal overdoses.

One person dies every 1.5 hours of an overdose in New York State and with Black, Indigenous, and Latinx NYers being disproportionately impacted.

Access to safe medically supervised settings to inject helps reduce HIV and hepatitis C transmission and other injection-related infections and most importantly reduces the risk of fatal overdose.

OPCs are gateways to other health care and social services and help to keep communities safe and healthy.

Each life taken due to an overdose is absolutely irreplaceable

It is a public health imperative, for each and everyone of us, especially our government officials, to do what we can to prevent overdoses.

By investing in systems of care and divesting from systems of harm, we will have more grandmothers who are able to pick up their grandkids after school and take them for ice cream young men who feel proud that they are able to support themselves middle aged women who feel excited to finally able to go on a cruise of a lifetime with her family

Not one more precious life taken due to a preventable overdose.

Thank you!