North America is in the grips of an epidemic of opioid-related poisonings. Overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND) programmes emerged as an option for structurally vulnerable populations who could not or would not access mainstream emergency medical services in the event of an overdose. These task shifting programmes utilize lay persons to deliver opioid resuscitation in the context of longstanding stigmatization and marginalization from mainstream healthcare services. OEND programmes exist at the intersection of harm reduction and emergency services. One goal of OEND programmes is to help redress the health-related inequities common among people who use drugs, which include minimizing the gap between people who use drugs and the formal healthcare system. However, if this goal is not achieved these inequities may be entrenched. In this article, we consider the ethical promises and perils associated with OEND as task shifting. We argue that public health practitioners must consider the ethical aspects of task shifting programmes that may inadvertently harm already structurally vulnerable populations. We believe that even if OEND programmes reduce opioid-related deaths, we nevertheless question if, by virtue of its existence, OEND programmes might also unintentionally disenfranchise structurally vulnerable populations from comprehensive healthcare services, including mainstream emergency care.