DPA Statement & Analysis in Response to Reports of First Decline in Drug Overdose Deaths Since 1990

Press Release July 17, 2019
Media Contact

Matt Sutton 212-613-8026

Statement from Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in response to new reports that drug overdose deaths have dropped (5.1%) for the first time since 1990:

“The modest drop in reported overdose deaths offers some hope that expanded naloxone access and other measures we’ve fought for are bearing fruit. But with nearly 70,000 deaths in the US last year alone and many policymakers still embracing failed punitive approaches, we have a long way to go. It is unacceptable that many critical health and harm reduction initiatives — such as syringe access programs, supervised consumption sites, and voluntary evidence-based treatment — continue to face significant legal and other challenges, when they could instead be saving lives.”

Analysis by Sheila Vakharia PhD LMSW, Policy Manager and Researcher with the Drug Policy Alliance, who took a further look at the state-by-state data and other factors:
“We need to take this all with a grain of salt. Although overdose deaths may have slightly decreased or leveled off on a national scale, the counts are still preliminary and there are still many states where rates increased significantly. These numbers also fail to reveal the work that remains to be done to reduce racial disparities in the states where black people continue to die at a higher rate of opioid overdose than white people. While the total number of overdose deaths went down in places like Washington DC, Iowa, and Minnesota, these are all jurisdictions where black people died at an overdose significantly higher rate than white residents- in DC, the black opioid overdose rate is 7 times higher than the white rate. Research continues to suggest that black communities in many parts of the country still struggle to access life-saving harm reduction and treatment options; in fact, a recent study found that black patients are 77% less likely to get a prescription for buprenorphine. It is too soon to take a victory lap; we need to double-down.”


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

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