Ahead of Mothers Day, Moms Criticize Elected Officials Who Are Using the Overdose Crisis to Pass Harsh Mandatory Minimum Laws that Will Put More Lives at Risk

Press Release May 8, 2024
Media Contact

Maggie Hart, [email protected]

New York, N.Y. — The United States is in the midst of the worst overdose crisis in history, with over 100,000 lives lost for the second year in a row. While the crisis impacts all communities, overdose deaths are rising most rapidly in Black and Indigenous communities.

Ahead of Mother’s Day, moms who have lost loved ones to overdose urged lawmakers to halt the influx of harsh drug laws that they say will not reduce overdose deaths but will instead fill our prisons without helping those struggling with substance use disorder. The May 8th press conference featured moms who are part of an open letter signed by more than 400 families from across the United States who have lost loved ones to overdose.

The letter, a collaboration with Broken No More and the Drug Policy Alliance, is a call-to-action for 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.

During the moving press conference, bereaved mothers shared their stories and implored lawmakers to stand firm against attempts to double down on the punitive policies of criminalization and prosecution as a response to the overdose crisis.

View the recorded press conference here

“On the eve of Mother’s Day, I am starkly reminded that a piece of my heart is missing…On April 29th, 2012, I lost my 16 year old son Josh to overdose. Since that time, I’ve worked constantly to spare other families from the tragic loss,” said Tamara Olt, M.D., Executive Director of Broken No More. “I oppose the criminalization of drug use and advocate for a public health response, including treatment on demand, safe use sites, harm reduction, and a safe supply. We must stop imposing harsher penalties and filling our prisons with people who use and sell drugs.”

“I am absolutely opposed to punitive drug laws. They cost my boy [Ben] his life. Further, research shows that punitive drug laws do not decrease drug use, drug sales or overdose deaths,” said Aimee Dunkle, Board Member of Broken No More. “Harm reduction can change hearts and minds in addition to saving lives.”

Speakers at the press conference addressed the wave of fentanyl laws and political push to bring back the failed drug war. In the 2023 legislative session, hundreds of bills related to fentanyl were proposed across the country. These bills included laws to increase the penalties for the possession and distribution of fentanyl as well as drug-induced homicide laws.

“Substance use is a health issue and we should treat it like a health issue, not a moral failure. Mother’s Day is in a few days, and there will be many empty seats at the table for any number of reasons, be it overdose, death, incarceration, or tough love resulting in family separation,” said Diannee Carden Glenn, Founder of ekiM for Change, a syringe service program in North Carolina. “We do not support the current approach of tougher criminality.”

“The overdose epidemic is a public health crisis desperately in need of compassion and proven solutions, not criminalization. Our criminal justice system allows certain privileged people to go free and leave victims with no real means of prosecution or support, and continuously harms marginalized communities,” said Susan Ousterman, Founder of Vilhomah Foundation. Susan lost her 24-year-old son, Tyler, to an overdose. “We demand that our elected officials prioritize saving lives in the midst of this overdose epidemic rather than relying on the old and effective drug war playbook.”

Moreover, families are advocating for proven investments in health alternatives as they call on lawmakers to decriminalize drug possession.

“Criminalization will make everything worse for all – families, communities across the nation. If criminalization worked, why do we have the highest rates of overdose?” said Marilyn Reyes, Co-Director Peer Network Of New York and VOCAL-NY Board Member. Marilyn lost the father of her son to an overdose. “What we actually need is a deep investment and commitment to public health solutions like harm reduction, drug checking services, education, overdose prevention centers.”

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 the 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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