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Harm Reduction Matters More Than Ever as Overdose Deaths Continue to Soar in Big Cities

Line graph showing 235% increase in drug overdose deaths in big U.S. cities from 2010-2021

May 1, 2023

In partnership with the Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative created a new infographic using data from the Big Cities Health Inventory, an open-source platform providing health metrics for the 35 large U.S. cities that comprise the BCHC.

The infographic shows that, in big cities, lives lost to drug overdoses increased more than 3-fold in the past decade and that the largest increases were in the past two years.

View Infographic: Drug Overdose Deaths in Big Cities 2010-2021

The findings highlight why decriminalization of addiction and support for trauma-informed harm reduction programming are urgently needed in big cities across the U.S. Harm reduction programs save lives by reducing infectious disease transmission and making health-related services available without requiring that people stop using drugs as a precondition of support. Examples of harm reduction programming are needle exchanges and safe sharps disposal, overdose prevention through naloxone distribution and supervised consumption sites, and facilitating access to prescription opioid agonists such as methadone and buprenorphine. The harm reduction model acknowledges drug users’ individual autonomy and dignity and aims to reduce stigma around addiction, because stigma is a powerful deterrent to taking positive steps to safeguard one’s health.

Learn more about efforts to promote harm reduction internationally, harm reduction efforts within Philadelphia, and BCHC policy initiatives.

To stay up-to-date on the Big Cities Health Inventory please make sure to follow both the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative (@DrexelUHC) and BCHC (@BigCitiesHealth) on Twitter or subscribe to our newsletter.

The Big Cities Health Inventory data platform is primarily funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through a cooperative agreement with the National Association of County and City Health Officials. The views expressed on the data platform do not necessarily represent the views of the funders.