200 Families Release Open Letter to Lawmakers: Urge Health Response to Overdose, Not More Punishment

Press Release September 7, 2023
Media Contact

Kristen Millnick
[email protected]

Today, two hundred families from across the United States who have lost loved ones to overdose released an open letter urging lawmakers to stand firm against attempts to double down on the punitive policies of criminalization and prosecution as a response to the overdose crisis. In collaboration with Broken No More and the Drug Policy Alliance, these families are speaking out and calling on all lawmakers to oppose these failed drug war policies and instead embrace life-affirming, evidence-based health responses proven to save lives and prevent other families from experiencing the devastating loss of the one they love.

“Opportunistic politicians supported by law enforcement are using the overdose crisis and parents’ grief to pass harsh drug laws that will only continue to fill our morgues and prisons,” states the open letter. “Punitive laws will not bring our loved ones back, but they will subject other parents’ children to more suffering and deny them the support that can keep them alive.”

A wave of harsh new laws is sweeping across the U.S. Red and blue states alike are increasingly passing new laws for mandatory minimums, drug-induced homicide, and increased penalties for possession of drugs, including fentanyl. This wave is being led by politicians who are interested in bringing back the failed drug war, only serving the purpose of threatening and stigmatizing specific groups of people while giving voters the appearance that something is being done about a problem, when in fact it will make the problem worse.

Families are calling for proven investments in health alternatives. They are calling on lawmakers to decriminalize drug possession, increase harm reduction and addiction services, open overdose prevention centers, and provide evidence-based voluntary treatment options.

“As a mother who lost her 16-year-old son to overdose, I strongly oppose imposing harsher penalties for those involved in drug-related deaths,” said Tamara Olt, M.D., Executive Director of Broken No More. “It is enough that one family has been devastated by the loss of their loved one. It is cruel and unjust for a second family to lose their child to incarceration and the laws will increase deaths by making people afraid to get help for someone experiencing an overdose. I support a health-based approach, harm reduction, and safer supply to cease the senseless and preventable overdose deaths that are increasing exponentially. No one is disposable.”

“I lost my son, my only child, Jeff, to an overdose. But he didn’t have to die. There were two people with Jeff that day, one of whom had sold him the heroin he used. They could have called for help but, instead, they pulled him from the SUV and left him on a lawn. And while people will say that they were monsters, they weren’t. The monster was fear. Fear of the police. Fear of arrest. Fear of spending 20 years to life in prison. It was fear that killed my son,” said Denise Cullen, LCSW, Co-Founder, Broken No More. “Criminalization and punitive drug laws have resulted in nothing but more imprisonment, more deaths, and more devastated families. We must, instead, invest in health-based solutions that will save the lives of the ones we love. Laws that charge people with murder for a drug-related death may sound like a good idea. Until that is, it’s your child that dies on a lawn.”

“We stand behind the families who are bravely fighting for the right policy solutions so that no one else has to go through the heartbreak and pain they have experienced. Their voices are abundantly clear that the best way to address the overdose crisis is through continued investment in public health resources and services rather than doubling down on the deeply flawed, unjust, and failed punitive approaches of the past,” said Emily Kaltenbach, Senior Director of State Advocacy and Criminal Legal Reform at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Turning to health solutions instead of punishment is the right way forward. People all across the country are looking for answers to the problems of public safety, mass criminalization, racist policing, addiction, overdose, and homelessness.  But we know that punishing people for possessing drugs for personal use is not the answer to these issues.”

All names of family members and their loved ones calling for action can be found here. Parents and family members who have lost the one they love to overdose can join the call to action by signing onto the letter here.


About Broken No More

Broken No More is an organization formed by families and friends of those suffering from a substance use disorder. We have lived the trauma of addiction with our loved ones and we have experienced the devastating effects caused by the drug policies of prohibition and criminalization. Far too many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one from overdose because of these policies. Broken No More was formed with the mission of supporting and promoting more enlightened drug policies that will reduce the stigma of drug use and keep other parents and family members from losing the one they love to overdose. Learn more at broken-no-more.org.

About Drug Policy Alliance

The Drug Policy Alliance is the leading organization in the U.S. working to end the drug war, repair its harms, and build a non-punitive, equitable, and regulated drug market. We envision a world that embraces the full humanity of people, regardless of their relationship to drugs. We advocate that the regulation of drugs be grounded in evidence, health, equity, and human rights. In collaboration with other movements and at every policy level, we change laws, advance justice, and save lives. Learn more at drugpolicy.org.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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