Secretary Becerra Delivers Remarks During Joint HHS-ONDCP Press Call on Biden-Harris Administration Harm Reduction Investments

Xavier Becerra

Press Briefing
Virtual Event

Announces SAMHSA's First-Ever Harm Reduction Grant Program

As Prepared for Delivery

Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us.

Today, we’re here to discuss a crisis that has taken far too many lives across the nation.

Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, stimulants -- like methamphetamine and cocaine -- and other drugs are harming our citizens at an alarming rate.

For the first the time ever, overdose deaths in this country exceeded 100,000 over a 12-month period, from April 2020 to April 2021.

But numbers don’t tell the full story.

We see it in the faces of grieving families.

We hear it in the blaring sirens and panicked 911 calls.

We read it in the obituaries of sons and daughters gone too soon because help came too late.

For decades, our society tried to stigmatize and punish those with addiction. But we know the so-called “War on Drugs” was actually just a “War on People.”

Stigma doesn’t save lives. Stigma induces silence, secrecy, and fear.

That’s why back in October, we rolled out a strategy that changes course and gives people the help they need.

Our new HHS strategy aims to prevent all overdoses.

Our strategy consists of four priorities:

  • Primary Prevention;
  • Harm Reduction;
  • Evidence-Based Treatment; and
  • Recovery Support.

Today, we’re taking another major step forward on one of those priorities: Harm reduction.

Our Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) will be accepting applications for its first-ever Harm Reduction grant program, totaling $30 million in grant awards.

This funding, provided by the American Rescue Plan, will help increase access to a range of community harm reduction services, and it will support harm reduction service providers as they work to help prevent overdose deaths and reduce health risks often associated with drug use.

This announcement advances the Biden-Harris Administration’s priorities. And it builds on the work SAMHSA is already doing on harm reduction, including allowing federal grant dollars to be used to purchase fentanyl test strips, and considering how to make naloxone widely available, including over the counter.

Overcoming addiction is not easy, and it rarely happens overnight.

And where we can’t prevent someone from using these substances, we should at least be trying to make sure we prevent severe consequences like death.

That means we need to be helping people reduce harm while they fight their addiction, not silencing them, stigmatizing them, or pushing them into the shadows.

We know that evidence-based harm reduction strategies can save lives.

When someone decides they want to use drugs more safely, they are saying that they care about whether they live or die and are taking the first step to ending their addiction.

Our new HHS Overdose Prevention Strategy is clear—harm reduction services are critical to keeping people who use drugs alive and as healthy as possible.

Americans deserve health services that address the full range of drug use and addiction issues, and this funding will help provide those services in the neighborhoods in which they live.

Now I’d like to turn it over to Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, who is leading our team at SAMHSA.

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