The overdose crisis continues in the United States, with 2017 marking the 7th year since overdose became the leading cause of accidental deaths. But unlike in the past, today’s crisis is prompting some compassion, at least rhetorically, with frequent calls emphasizing the need for treatment over incarceration, and eliciting sympathy for its victims rather than condemnation.

Nonetheless, drug war strategies persist. The use of the criminal justice system continues to dominate local, state, and federal responses to drug use; as overdose death rates continue to rise, so do the number of policy proposals focused on punishment and retribution instead of public health and safety.  Since November 2015, 25 states have passed legislations to increase fentanyl-related penalties, and prosecutors are increasingly charging people murder if they sell a drug that is used in an overdose death.

Criminal justice reform groups have not always pushed back against these developments, partially due to uncertainty around how to discuss the dangers and casualties of the crisis while pursuing criminal justice reform. These issues will be addressed in a one-day, invitation-only briefing for federal criminal justice reform groups to discuss the overdose crisis and approaches to defeating punitive criminal justice proposals.

The event is divided into two segments. The first is hosted by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at The Ohio State University and the Drug Policy Alliance, with support from the Charles Koch Institute. This segment will include presentations on the nature of the crisis, the trend towards tough sentences for synthetic drugs like fentanyl, and how drug policy relates to the broader criminal justice reform movement.

The second, after-lunch segment of the day, will involve strategy session lead by policy advocates reviewing past successes and formulating new approaches for fighting back against harmful policy proposals, and is hosted by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center and Drug Policy Alliance.

This event is by invitation only. If you are interested in attending, please contact Jana Hrdinova at