Harm Reduction Policy and Practice: Syringe Exchange Programs and Naloxone Training

Class Description: Harm Reduction is a philosophy, social movement, and public health approach to drug use that acknowledges the realities of humans’ relationships to legal and illicit substances. Brought to the United States in the 1980s from Europe, harm reduction has traditionally been practiced by communities of people who use drugs as a means of radical self care and mutual support. Harm reduction works to empower individuals to keep themselves and their communities safe, healthy, and alive while using drugs. Traditional harm reduction services and programs include needle exchange programs and community-based opioid overdose prevention programs that distribute naloxone, the opiate overdose antagonist. Today, such programs are viewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as key components of the response to the U.S. opioid crisis. This session will provide participants with an introduction to the philosophy of harm reduction, and the evidence-base for syringe exchange programs, including their role in reducing the transmission of infectious disease and connecting individuals to drug treatment programs. Participants will learn about advocacy efforts to create legal syringe exchange programs in Iowa, as well as existing underground syringe exchange networks in the state. Further, participants will explore opioid overdose prevention programs and evidence-based strategies to reduce overdose deaths, and will learn to administer naloxone to reverse an overdose.

About the Instructors:

Sarah Ziegenhorn is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition (IHRC). As Executive Director she oversees the organization’s community outreach, overdose prevention, legislative advocacy, and harm reduction education programs, as well as development and evaluation. Sarah has worked with people who use drugs for over six years, including with the Washington, D.C. syringe service program HIPS. Before founding IHRC, she was the Special Assistant to the President and Research Associate with the Washington, D.C. health policy think tank, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. She has an extensive background in public health and health care policy research, project management, communications; and fundraising, grant writing, grant administration and evaluation. Sarah graduated from Macalester College with a degree in Geography and Community Health. She is currently an M.D. candidate at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, where her research interests include ethnography, women’s health care disparities, and substance use during pregnancy. Sarah is the recipient of the 2017 U.S. Public Health Service “Excellence in Public Health” award. She is also a native Iowan, growing up both on her family’s farm near Muscatine, IA and in Iowa City. Sarah is a yoga teacher (200-RYT) and lives in Iowa City with her partner and her dog, Callie.

Alex Flesher is the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator for the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition (IHRC). He was raised in Des Moines, IA, and before IHRC he was a Community Organizer for the League of Conservation Voters where he mobilized support for state and federal environmental policy issues. He graduated from the University of Iowa with degrees in English and Philosophy, and currently works with people with disabilities as a Direct Support Professional for MYEP. He has a personal understanding of the difficulties and stigma surrounding living with addiction, and believes in the inherent dignity of each person regardless of lifestyle choices. He lives in Iowa City with his partner Elissa and their two cats, and plays banjo with local group Flash in a Pan.


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