Daniel Raymond is the deputy director of policy and planning at the Harm Reduction Coalition. The coalition works with communities to address the health consequences associated with drug misuse. Raymond spoke with Interact for Health about the coalition's goals and community efforts to fight the opioid misuse crisis.
Interact for Health: Could you explain more about the Harm Reduction Coalition and its goals?
Daniel Raymond: We're a national organization that's been around for over two decades. Our work focuses on supporting communities in addressing the health consequences of drug use, such as overdose and hepatitis C infection. We do this through training, capacity-building and advocacy.
We have a set of harm reduction principles on our website, and that is kind of our compass. In the most concrete terms, harm reduction refers to strategies that can reduce the risk of harmful consequences of drug use.
It could be overdose; it could be hepatitis C or HIV infection, or a whole range of other health issues. Our goal is to work with people and communities to prevent those harms.
Interact for Health: What lessons have you learned from operating the coalition?
Raymond: One of the things that I've learned and we've learned through our work is that there's a diversity of issues that communities face across the country, whether they're rural areas, urban areas or suburban areas. Some of the challenges that we consistently continue to hear about relate toward training and education needs, stigma, and funding and resources. Part of it is recognizing that making a policy change is only the first part of the battle, that you really need to think through the implementation phase and to recognize that it takes a lot of patience and may not always be quick wins.
Interact for Health: What accomplishments of the coalition are you most proud of?
Raymond: I'm proud that we've really risen to meet the challenge of this opioid crisis and heroin crisis affecting parts of the country. We've worked in places like Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia to train communities on how to respond effectively. We've also piloted some innovative work. For example, in New York we are working with the state prisons to make sure that inmates have education about overdose risks before they're released, and if they're interested, can be provided with naloxone upon discharge.
I'm also proud of our work at the federal level to support good harm reduction policies, like allowing federal funds for syringe exchanges, getting naloxone front and center in the federal overdose strategy, and advocating for more access to medication-assisted treatment with buprenorphine.
Interact for Health: Could you share a brief story that illustrates the effect of your project in the community?
Raymond: We did some work in Huntington, West Virginia. They were seeing an increase in overdose, and new issues with injecting drugs and hepatitis C infection spreading. We did some training and education with them to help them get a syringe exchange program started and that's been one of the biggest success stories over the past couple of years. They're making some progress on their issues, and that's thanks to a cross-sector collaboration and political leadership. Their mayor really got involved and illustrated an issue that a lot of political leaders are really afraid to touch, and that sent a strong message.
Interact for Health: What about your work excites you or is most fulfilling?
Raymond: That's kind of changed over the years. I get to work with a lot of amazing local advocates; people working at the grassroots level who are doing incredible things: they're getting legislation passed in their statehouse; they're starting up new programs; they're developing innovative responses to the overdose crisis. Their energy and their passion are infectious. I learn a lot from them. I feel lucky when our organization is able to support their work, and it really gives me hope that we're on our way to figuring how to end the overdose crisis.
Interact for Health regularly conducts research and collects data in order to monitor and evaluate our region’s health status and to measure public opinions about health policy.
Our Health in Action stories highlight the innovative work our grantees are doing to help reduce tobacco use, address the opioid epidemic and ensure that children can access health care through school-based health centers. We also interview people working on those issues at other organizations across the country to learn what works for them.
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