Press Release: National Public Health Experts Urge Biden-Harris Transition Team to End War on Drugs and Lead Coordinated Public Health Response to the Opioid Overdose Crisis

The François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University today urged the Biden-Harris transition team to implement drug policy reforms to curb overdose deaths and address long-standing harms stemming from the multigenerational “War on Drugs” campaign.

In collaboration with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Open Society Foundations, the FXB Center sent the Biden-Harris transition team a new report, titled From the War on Drugs to Harm Reduction: Imagining A Just Overdose Crisis Response, which outlines 11 specific recommendations for reforms that would help direct and address the overdose crisis, advance public health equitably and amend harsh criminal justice practices disproportionately imposed on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, when overall overdose-related deaths were beginning to decline, the number of overdose deaths among people of color continued to rise across the country,” said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, director of the FXB Center. “Under the new administration, we are confident our recommendations will go far in closing these inequitable gaps. As President-Elect Biden understands first-hand the experience of loving someone who lives with drug addiction, we know that his commitment to a just response is real, and that countless others affected by the ongoing crisis can feel hopeful toward achieving necessary reforms for real change.”

“The outsized and multigenerational impact of the overdose crisis on children and families around the country is increasingly troubling,” said Lola Adedokun, Child Well-Being Program director at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “Ensuring that the wisdom of grassroots leaders, community organizers, young people, researchers and policymakers is valued and prioritized in guiding an appropriate, rapid and equitable responses will be crucial. We hope that these recommendations will be readily taken up by federal, state and city leaders as we all prepare for the long recovery ahead.”

“The overdose crisis is on track to kill a record numbers of Americans in 2020, including a growing and disproportionate number of people of color. Drug users of color are more likely to die for many of the same reasons that they’re more likely to die from COVID-19: higher rates of poverty, less access to effective medical treatment, and more underlying health conditions, often stemming from the consequences of structural racism,” said Tom Perriello, executive director of Open Society-US. “These policy solutions outline how state and local governments can best use settlement dollars to provide people with proven public health solutions and treatment they need to heal and recover. Deploying these best practices is quite literally a matter of life or death.”

Serving as a model for a coordinated crisis response at national and municipal levels, the report presents a broad range of solutions to the overdose crisis integrated across health care, mental health, housing, employment, child welfare and criminal justice by centering on two key principles:

  1. Support the full range of care, services and support for people who use drugs or have opioid dependence
  2. Rethink prevention to address the underlying determinants of opioid use and dependence

The report’s recommendations recognize and respond to structural health disparities, racially motivated drug policies, class inequalities and sustained disruption of social safety nets. Some of the recommendations include:

  • Setting up a bulk purchasing fund to procure overdose reversal medication (naloxone) and Medications for Addiction Treatment (MAT) at lower prices
  • Increasing community-based distribution of overdose reversal medication (naloxone) to reach people at risk of overdose
  • Expanding Medicaid to ensure access to quality health care and increase funding for other health and social services tailored for people who use drugs or are at risk of overdose
  • Monitoring the pharmaceutical opioid supply while promoting evidence-based and compassionate pain management for individuals, including people who use drugs
  • Divesting from punitive and carceral approaches to address drug use and reform the criminal legal system while investing in community development programs
  • Creating a national campaign to address stigma and misconceptions and allocate funds to create a non-profit foundation that coordinates a national-level response and serves as a non-governmental watchdog

The report’s authors note that any national-level action must incorporate community mobilization, wealth redistribution, knowledge transfer and data access, and must engage groups led by people who use drugs. They stress the need to ensure that voices of affected communities, particularly BIPOC communities, are structurally placed in the conversation when thinking about using settlement funds for national-level coordination and action, which is critical to avoid falling into the pitfalls of tokenism and perpetuating inequities.

To download the full report and related infographic, please visit:

About the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University

The FXB Center is an interdisciplinary center that conducts rigorous investigation of the most serious threats to health and wellbeing globally. We work closely with scholars, students, the international policy community, and civil society to engage in ongoing strategic efforts to promote equity and dignity for those oppressed by grave poverty and stigma around the world. To learn more, please visit

About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation

The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, child well-being and medical research, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties. The foundation’s Child Well-being Program aims to promote children’s healthy development and protect them from abuse and neglect. To learn more, visit

About the Open Society Foundations

The Open Society Foundations, founded by George Soros, are the world’s largest private funder of independent groups working for justice, democratic governance, and human rights. We provide thousands of grants every year through a network of national and regional foundations and offices, funding a vast array of projects—many of them now shaped by the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more, visit 



Veronica Lewin

FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University

Megan Daly

FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University