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Int J Drug Policy. 2018 May;55:77-79. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.02.013. Epub 2018 Mar 20.

Harnessing the language of overdose prevention to advance evidence-based responses to the opioid crisis.

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Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Canada; British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, Canada.
Department of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, United States.
British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, Canada.
British Columbia Centre on Substance Use, Canada; Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Canada. Electronic address:


Language has significant implications for how we view and respond to public health issues. Conventional moralistic messaging around drug use stigmatizes people who use drugs and inhibits the implementation of evidence-based harm reduction interventions that do not condemn drug use. However, within the context of the unprecedented North American opioid overdose crisis, we argue that shifting conventional moral messaging around overdose prevention and response strategies is key to supporting the rapid roll-out of evidence-based harm reduction interventions. Reframing overdose prevention to highlight the imperative to address the ongoing public health emergency is an important first step in implementing urgently needed response strategies.


Drug policy; Harm reduction; Language; Overdose

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