O'Neill Institute  |  February 22, 2022

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Overdose deaths in the United States are rising at an alarming rate. While there is no question that the societal problems associated with substance use disorders are real and difficult, research has demonstrated that punitive approaches to addiction, which have led to the criminalization of whole generations of people, especially Black Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities, only exacerbates the conditions that can lead to substance use and related harms. In contrast to approaches that punish people for using drugs, harm reduction supports individuals taking responsibility for their own health and the health of their communities to reduce their substance use and minimize the negative consequences of this use on themselves and the people around them. Harm reduction services also facilitate access to substance use disorder treatment, reduce the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and minimize cost burdens on the health system. Adopting effective, evidence-based policies such as harm reduction, will help combat the rise in overdose deaths and serve as an essential part of our efforts to end the HIV epidemic and eliminate viral hepatitis as a public threat in the U.S.