Biden makes history with State of the Union harm reduction support

President Biden made history Tuesday during his State of the Union address, becoming the first president to publicly endorse a harm reduction approach to ending the overdose epidemic.

Biden unveiled during his address a “unity agenda for the nation,” which featured a call to end the overdose epidemic, increase funding for harm reduction programs and remove burdensome restrictions that keep medical providers from prescribing medication for opioid use disorder.

“We know that the Biden administration is firmly committed to trusting the science and public health best practices in their efforts to end the overdose and HIV epidemics,” said Jesse Milan Jr., CEO and president of AIDS United.  “But to see President Biden underscore that commitment to supporting harm reduction programs in front of the entire nation during his State of the Union address was truly remarkable. We welcome the administration’s support.” 

Biden’s support for harm reduction programs could not come at a more crucial time in our fight to end the overdose crisis. The CDC estimates that more than 104,000 people in the U.S. died from drug-related overdoses between September 2020 and September 2021. Black communities have been especially hard hit in recent years, with overdose rates for Black men and women more than tripling and doubling respectively between 2015 and 2020. At the same time new HIV diagnoses related to injection drug use have been rising, even as HIV transmission rates have mostly been decreasing across other populations.

“For 50 years, the United States has taken a primarily punitive and abstinence-centric approach to prevent overdose deaths, and that approach has fueled the overdose crisis we are currently experiencing,” said Drew Gibson, AIDS United’s director of advocacy. 

Gibson continued, “It is our hope at AIDS United that Biden’s remarks represent a turning point in the way the federal government addresses the overdose crisis, putting to rest the destructive, carceral approach of the past and charting a new path forward that prioritizes the health, well-being and autonomy of people who use drugs.

“We look forward to working with the Biden administration to secure desperately needed funding increases for harm reduction programs as we seek to end the HIV and overdose epidemics together.”