Issues & Solutions

Confronting the Opioid Crisis

Direct Relief supports front-line health providers with medical products, financial support, and other resources for patient care, addiction prevention and clinical treatment.

Quick Facts

  • Direct Relief began distributing the donations of naloxone in March 2017.
  • Since then, more than 1 million doses of naloxone have been distributed nationwide.
  • Naloxone can rapidly revive normal breathing in an individual who has overdosed on heroin or prescription opioid medications.

In Focus

Supporting Addiction Prevention and Treatment Across the U.S.

Every day, more than 128 people in the United States die of overdose as a result of opioid use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The misuse of and addiction to opioids — including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — presents a serious national crisis that affects public health, as well as social and economic welfare. The CDC estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

Since 2017, Direct Relief has distributed naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses overdose, to organizations across the United States, through a partnership with Pfizer. Shipments to these healthcare providers include needles, syringes and alcohol swabs, which BD has donated to support the effort.

In July 2019, Direct Relief received three times the requests for naloxone from the previous year. Providing consistent access to naloxone, in conjunction with financial support for expanded behavioral health services, provides a comprehensive approach for those most at-risk across the country, through key partnerships with the National Association of Community Health Centers, National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, Harm Reduction Coalition, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials. As of October 2019, organizations that had received naloxone through Direct Relief self-reported more than 10,000 reversals of opioid overdose.

Covid-19 and Impacts of Addiction

Social distancing, reductions to in-person counseling, and general anxiety related to Covid-19 have led to concerns about an increase in overdose deaths and the demand for naloxone continues to rise among Direct Relief’s network.

In late 2020, Direct Relief retained a research organization to conduct an evaluation of the naloxone access program in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The organization interviewed 20 recipients, including harm reduction groups, community health centers and public health departments.

Findings included:

  • At the organization level, interviewees highlighted the immense impact of increased access to naloxone through Direct Relief’s donations has had on their programs, including the ability to reprioritize resources and integrate more opioid overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution in their work.
  • At the community level, interviewees highlighted that having increased supply of naloxone through Direct Relief has saved thousands of lives.
  • More organizations have been able to embrace a harm reduction model to address drug use and addiction, implementing strategies that put individuals at the center of intervention.

Compassionate Care from Local Providers

Direct Relief supports several types of health providers in their efforts to treat and assist patients impacted by opioid use disorders.

Types of health organizations supported include:

  • Community Health Centers and Free & Charitable Clinics: Health centers and free and charitable clinics make up the majority of Direct Relief’s network and provide care that is high-quality, accessible, culturally appropriate, and affordable. They are anchor points in their communities and are located in medically underserved areas. In addition to providing primary care, these facilities employ health education, behavioral health services, dental care, substance abuse prevention and treatment, child and after school care, rental assistance programs, mobile healthcare, access to healthy food, and other critical social services that are responsive to societal factors that play a role in patient health.
  • The Harm Reduction Coalition: The Harm Reduction Coalition is a national advocacy and capacity-building organization that works to promote the health and dignity of individuals and communities impacted by drug use. Working with Harm Reductions has enabled outreach to a different population that may not access a health center, clinic, or public health department. Direct Relief connected with Harm Reductions in early 2017 and receives referrals through the Harm Reductions network.
  • National Association for Recovery Residence (NARR)/VOICES Project: Recovery residences provide a safe and healthy living environment for individuals recovering from substance abuse disorders through peer-to-peer recovery support. According to NARR, recovery residences should maintain a supply of naloxone and ensure staff are trained on administering the drug. However, access to naloxone can be cost-prohibitive. Direct Relief and NARR, in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, have piloted an Overdose Response Initiative for Recovery Homes in four states to increase access to naloxone for individuals living in recovery residences. Beginning in early 2019, Direct Relief and NARR developed a program to identify and provide support through donations of naloxone to recovery residences throughout the U.S.
  • Public Health Departments: Throughout the country, health departments play a critical role in responding to the opioid epidemic. PHDs take a multifaceted approach in responding to the needs of their communities through surveillance and monitoring, expanding prevention and education, the promotion of appropriate opioid prescribing practices, and the improvement and expansion of recovery services.

Financial Support for Ongoing Efforts

Direct Relief complements medical donations of medicine with increasing financial support for clinics and health centers to start new, and expand existing, programming for its patients. The organization aims to build upon the capacity of its provider network to address inequities and create patient-based solutions for the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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