Last Week Tonight calls attention to harm reduction programs

On a recent episode of the late-night television show Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver discussed opioid settlement funds. Oliver argued that local governments are not using these funds in the most effective ways and said the funds should be used to support harm reduction services such as overdose prevention centers, naloxone, drug test strips, and safe needle exchanges. The episode sparked online conversation about harm reduction and opioids across multiple social media platforms and in news articles. Some social media posts about the episode claimed there is no opioid crisis and accused Oliver of ignoring chronic pain patients who rely on opioids, while others expressed gratitude for the episode calling attention to harm reduction programs.

Recommendation:Trending conversations about harm reduction programs provide an opportunity to recirculate existing messaging about opioids, harm reduction programs, and how harm reduction programs benefit communities. Messaging may emphasize that the number of opioid-related deaths has been rising continuously since 1999, and over 75 percent of overdose deaths in 2022 involved opioids. Additional messaging may emphasize that harm reduction tools like naloxone and drug test strips prevent overdose deaths, that syringe services programs (SSPs) reduce rates of HIV and hepatitis C by approximately 50 percent, and that people who use SSPs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who do not use SSPs. Including prebunking messaging explaining that decades of research has shown that SSPs do not increase drug use or crime in the communities they serve is also recommended.