‘Greatest ever’ harm reduction ad campaign demands services and honors the dead

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YesYou can now participate in an online memorial to honor over one million lives lost to overdose in the United States since 1999. can add a name, photo and obituary. Launched on February 14, it is partly inspired by the AIDS Quilt—a massive project started in 1985 to commemorate the victims of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Vital Strategies, the nonprofit organization behind the memorial, paired it with a national advertising campaign, “Harm Reduction Saves Lives.” This includes a full page ad in the New York Timesand three video commercials which will air in the Washington, DC area on major television networks like CNN, BET, and ESPN and online outlets like YouTube and Hulu. According to Vital Strategies, this is the largest harm reduction advertising campaign ever. It is expected to reach 37 million people, hopefully including lawmakers.

“It took me out of all the misery I was living in… Risk reduction saved my life.

“I contracted hepatitis C from sharing needles,” said Acxel, a harm reduction outreach worker, in one of the video ads. “When I discovered harm reduction, little by little, I started making changes in my life. It took me out of all the misery I was living in… Risk reduction saved my life.

The campaign’s goals are to get more harm reduction services across the country, as well as more funding and support for them. It’s about raising awareness five strategies proven to save the lives of people who use drugs…naloxone, syringe service programs, medications for opioid use disorder, drug control and overdose prevention centers (also known as safe consumption sites).

“The memorial is a way for people to share in the loving, tender, meaningful and powerful loss of life we ​​are experiencing with the overdose crisis,” said Daliah Heller, vice president of drug use initiatives at Vital Strategies. . Filtered. The campaign website includes a phone book for people to find harm reduction services and organizations in their area.

Lack of funding for harm reduction is a major barrier. For too long, federal, state and local governments have overlooked harm reduction services-and some directly upset them.

In 2021, President Biden’s administration authorized federal funding for harm reduction services for the first time. But the total sum for the nationwide programs was only $30 million, and nothing has been released yet. And this month, bowing to a backlash from right-wing public opinion, the federal government made it clear that it would not allow funding to provide pipes in safe smoking kits.

Nevertheless, the money from Biden’s coronavirus bill, as well as the financial damage from historic legal settlements with manufacturers and distributors of opioid pharmaceuticals, will come directly to states and vendors throughout this year, Heller explained. She hopes that one of the results of the advertising campaign will be to maintain the focus of this funding on harm reduction.

“How the supplies that are useful for people to protect their own health and the health of their friends with whom they may use drugs, How? ‘Or’ What are these supplies criminalized? »

But even more money would be of limited use if governments across the country continued to block or impose heavy restrictions on harm reduction services.

The ad campaign has no explicit “calls to action” for viewers, such as phoning or emailing lawmakers. It is simply focused on raising awareness of the issues, educating people about the options, and building consensus on the failure of the current approach.

“The way we think about harm reduction,” Heller said, “is it’s about decriminalizing people who use drugs. So what are some of the ways they are criminalized? How the supplies that are useful for people to protect their own health and the health of their friends with whom they may use drugs, How? ‘Or’ What are these supplies criminalized? »


Campaign photography courtesy of Vital Strategies

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