The Drug Policy Alliance works to reduce harms associated with both drug prohibition and drug use. We have long advocated for solutions to the overdose crisis. Our work has widely expanded harm reduction services at local, state, and federal levels. Now our focus is federal reform and overdose prevention centers.
Access to sterile syringes plays a pivotal role in reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis C, and other preventable diseases. DPA played a key role in the efforts to make syringes legally available in New York (2000), California (2004), and New Jersey (2006). We supported similar campaigns in Connecticut, Illinois, and many other states. We helped pass legislation in Indiana (2015) and Florida (2016) to start such programs. And we had a leading role in the repeal of the decades-long federal funding ban on syringes in 2009.
DPA has been sounding the alarm on the growing crisis of drug overdose deaths since our founding. We helped draft and pass the country’s first naloxone access (2001) and Good Samaritan (2007) laws in New Mexico. Since those initial victories, we’ve helped enact similar laws in dozens of other states. Today, all 50 states and D.C. have made it easier to get naloxone. And 47 states and D.C. have Good Samaritan laws that provide some criminal immunity to people who call emergency responders to the scene of an overdose.
Drug checking supplies help people test their substances for adulterants such as fentanyl – and potentially save their lives. In 2017, the D.C. Council decriminalized drug checking supplies. DPA was instrumental in this win as well as similar measures in California, Maryland, and New Mexico.
Young people deserve better than a “just say no” approach to drug education. In 2019, DPA launched a first-of-its-kind drug education curriculum for high school students. It provides honest, accurate information about drugs and empowers youth to reduce drug-related harms. It is rooted in DPA’s early “Safety First” work to educate parents about strategies for talking to their children about drugs. In 2023, Stanford University’s REACH Lab adopted the program.
Criminal penalties for drug paraphernalia stigmatize people who use drugs and give law enforcement a reason to harass and arrest them. In 2019, New Mexico became the first state to repeal criminal penalties for possession of all drug paraphernalia. DPA worked with allies on this win and helped pass a similar measure in D.C. in 2020.
The federal response to the overdose crisis and drug user health has been shameful, offering scant resources to proven interventions. In 2021, Congress funded harm reduction services for the first time ever through the American Rescue Plan Act. It allocated $30 million for syringe access programs, naloxone distribution, and other lifesaving tools to help curb the overdose crisis. This win came after many years of persistent advocacy by DPA and our allies.
People leaving jail or prison are at a significantly higher risk of dying of drug overdose. And too often people behind bars need treatment. In 2021, New York enacted a law to expand access to medication to treat opioid use disorder for incarcerated people. DPA worked with allies to make this win possible.
We made history when the nation’s first government sanctioned overdose prevention centers (OPCs) opened in New York City. OPCs are facilities designed to reduce the potential risks of drug use, including overdose and public use. They also connect people with addiction services and social supports. DPA has long advocated for OPCs and helped lead the campaign in New York. The centers are operated by OnPoint NYC. They reversed more than 600 overdoses in their first year. And they’ve connected thousands to other crucial services. DPA is involved in similar efforts in California, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.