Decline in overdose deaths prompts online conversations about harm reduction

Last week, multiple media outlets reported that overdose deaths in the United States have declined slightly for the first time in five years, according to preliminary data from the CDC. This news prompted discussion across multiple social media platforms. Some social media users celebrated the decline in overdose deaths and promoted naloxone and other harm reduction services as a means of further reducing overdose deaths. Others questioned the effectiveness of harm reduction programs and promoted negative perceptions of people who use drugs, saying we should allow people to “kill themselves off.”

Recommendation: Trending conversations about overdose deaths provide an opportunity to recirculate existing messaging about the signs of overdose and how harm reduction programs prevent overdose deaths. Messaging may emphasize that despite a slight drop in overdose deaths, the U.S. still saw an estimated 107,543 overdose deaths last year, and nearly 70 percent of those deaths involved fentanyl. Harm reduction tools like naloxone and drug test strips prevent overdose deaths. Ensuring that informational materials, especially on websites and in toolkits for community-based organizations, use destigmatizing language to refer to people who use drugs and include clear instructions on when and how to use naloxone is recommended.