Record Spike in Overdose Deaths Shows Tough on Crime is a Failure, Advocates Say

Record Spike in Overdose Deaths Shows Tough on Crime is a Failure, Advocates Say

Overdose deaths in America hit a record high of 100,000 reported deaths over a 12-month period that ended in April 2021. While the troubling spike overlapped with coronavirus lockdowns, government and public health officials are now scrambling to make sure this record isn’t broken again this year.

“Today,” President Joe Biden released in a statement, “new data reveal that our nation has reached a tragic milestone: more than 100,000 lives were lost to the overdose epidemic from April of last year to April of this year. As we continue to make strides to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot overlook this epidemic of loss, which has touched families and communities across the country.”

The president pointed to this spring’s American Rescue Plan, which earmarked close to $4 billion for addiction and mental health programs.

“We are strengthening prevention, promoting harm reduction, expanding treatment, and supporting people in recovery,” Biden’s statement continues, “as well as reducing the supply of harmful substances in our communities. And we won’t let up.”

That’s not good enough for families still grieving after losing a loved one to an overdose, an increasing number of lawmakers in both parties and advocates though.

Don’t miss our 50 at 50 series: one current or former prisoner published a day until New Year’s Day 2022.

Many are worried over the president’s promise to double down on the tough-on-crime-era he was instrumental in codifying while a U.S. senator for 36 years. The Drug Policy Alliance (DPI) calls this portion of his message to the nation a “racially-motivated enforcement-first” approach aimed at salvaging drug policies that “are not working.”

“In fact,” Maritza Perez, the Director of the Office of National Affairs at DPI, released in a statement, “these approaches have fueled the overdose crisis by pushing people into risky situations, making the drug supply unregulated and unsafe, and wasting resources on punishment instead of harm reduction and other health-services proven to save lives.”

The tragic new record of unnecessary overdoses has the nation mourning, including advocates. Still, the fear is Biden still doesn’t get it.

“While we commend the Biden Administration for their efforts to move the needle on harm reduction strategies,” Perez continued, “it is extremely concerning that they still continue to push for tougher enforcement—especially as it relates to fentanyl related substances— only worsening this crisis and creating more racial disparities. You simply cannnot have it both ways and the US government cannot arrest its way out of this crisis.”

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