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Real-World Things Anybody Can Do to Advance Harm Reduction

The idea that any one person can have an impact on the world is nothing short of a cheesy cliché. We often feel that, since just one person’s labors aren’t worth the minute overall benefit to society that they could yield, we shouldn’t even bother with them in the first place.

However, no matter where you live, there are things that you — yes, you — can do to advance the society-wide adoption of harm reduction-positive policies, practices, and ideas.

I’m in rural Northwest Tennessee (NWTN). People in Tennessee are relatively inactive in social causes like voting, for example, the state securing 49th place for voter turnout rates in the 2016 presidential election. The Volunteer State’s 2014 midterm election turnout came in 50th place at just 28.5% voter turnout.

With this in mind, it’s easy to understand how this commonly-held fallacy — that individual efforts are not worthwhile — leads to people not being involved in efforts such as harm reduction advocacy.

On the bright side, however, the less progress that’s been made in an area harm reduction-wise, the greater the impact that individual harm reductionists have.

Before listing off a few real-world things that anybody can do to become a real-life, true-blue harm reduction advocate, here’s one more thing to consider:

Forward-thinking, progressive ideologies are often unwelcome in the Southeastern United States. This is especially true in rural NWTN, as locals are more likely to view practicing harm reductionists and the cause’s supporters as “less” than people who don’t advocate for the better treatment of drug users.

This is one of many issues preventing the implementation of harm reduction infrastrcuture in the Volunteer State.

What Can You Actually Do to Advocate for Harm Reduction?

It’d be great if more people spent time advocating for drug users. Our efforts would yield fruit much quicker if this were true.

One thing’s for sure — you aren’t helping advance a social movement unless you, personally, are involved. You can have a material impact on society by advocating for this cause, given you do so in an effective, open-minded, fair, well-thought-out way.

Without further ado, here are several real-world, practical ways to actively advocate for harm reduction.

Share Information With Others in Support of Harm Reduction

Technically, sharing a supportive article or crafting a positive post from scratch on social media — whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or YouTube — is a form of advocating for harm reduction. However, in actuality, simply sharing things on social media in the modern world of mass social media use is one of the weakest forms of advocating for this cause.

When this activity is carried out, seemingly most social media users fail to present their opinions in warm, caring, open-minded, welcoming ways. Rather, they do so in a mean-spirited, off-kilter, rude manner. How can you possibly expect someone else to adopt your way of thinking by being mean?

You really do, in fact, catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

So, if you do share this information with others, make sure to do so in a fair way in which you understand the merits of both or all common arguments for or against such practices.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to study up on how to most appropriately share such information in your social media advocacy efforts. It’s most definitely not as simple as making a run-of-the-mill post as you normally would on Facebook or Twitter!

Become Active in Looking Out for News That Supports Harm Reduction

Letters to the editor go a long way, especially when done so in accordance with contemporary best practices. The best way to support such articles, programs, news segments, or radio broadcasts is promptly. If you don’t respond within a few days of publication, the potential utility of your efforts drops quite a bit.

News that packs a punch moves people to consume it and talk about it with others in a rapid way. Make sure to keep up with articles like these in real-time to get the most from telling such publications’ editors or other people of importance that you strongly support them. News agencies will be more likely to continue writing like-kind pieces soon with the more positive reports they receive.

Community members not aware of or big on harm reduction will become more familiar with its basic principles and real-world applications through running harm-reduction-related content more frequently.

After all, local news sources are trusted quite more than publications active on broader levels. Local publications often set the tone for topics of concern across communities throughout the United States, too.

Regularly Attend Local Governments’ Community Meetings

Municipalities value the input of residents regarding important things going on in communities throughout the Northwest Tennessee area — however, this further goes for everywhere throughout the United States.

When you regularly attend these events and become active in them in a positive, constructive way, others will grow familiar with you and come to value your role as a wanted community member. Put simply, your words will carry a higher exchange rate than your peers.

You’ll learn what’s going on around you. Without understanding where harm reduction currently is, appropriately selecting the means of becoming active in such advocacy efforts is difficult.

Educating others about your community’s harm-reduction-related issues is more possible when you keep up with these municipal get-togethers. If you don’t know what’s going on, how can you hope to teach others important local-level things in a reasonable way?

Donating to Harm Reduction Organizations

Let’s take Next Distro, for example. The highly-active distributor of harm reduction supplies like syringes, naloxone, and other clean, high-quality drug paraphernalia is unable to provide fentanyl test strips to all of their patrons en masse. They’re too expensive to afford, for them, in this example.

This happened earlier this year in my dealings with Next Distro, a provider of free supplies that I’ve trusted for a while.

To be fair, I’ve fnever donated to the organization. I’m not able to afford giving away money to any good cause. Either way, what I’m trying to say is that I’m as guilty as everyone else insofar as having not donated to Next Distro.

If more people donated to Next Distro, for example — the New York-based harm reduction supply distributor founded by Jamie Favaro, who has personally helped me gain regular access to free harm reduction supplies — fentanyl test strips, which are highly useful among opioid users — specifically street heroin consumers — in today’s domestic heroin market. This drug checking would ultimately help people stay safer, as well as potentially accomplish a few other goals.

Other harm-reduction-related causes that are good to donate to also take the form of government agencies and community-based organizations. Treat them in a similar manner.

Not Moving Our Cause Backward

One way that you can harm the greater cause of harm reductionists is to give us a bad name by being uneducated regarding the harm-reduction-related positions you discuss with others and doing so in an unfair, illogical way. Being an asshat won’t get you anywhere, especially in today’s dicey American political landscape — it’s one side versus the other.

We don’t need to talk about harm reduction in such a manner. Always try to see the merits in other points of view opposing those held by contemporary harm reductionists. Engage them in a curious, level-headed, nice way. Don’t ever insult others or talk down in a condescending form.

The last thing any of us should be doing is chipping away at the growing, cinderblock foundation upon which our proverbial home of harm reduction will be erected upon.

Give Out Syringes, Naloxone, and Other Supplies

If possible, you should consider distributing such supplies to drug users. Naloxone should also be distributed to laypeople, not just drug users.

Doing so may be illegal where you live. Always check state and local laws regarding the distribution of naloxone, syringes, tourniquets, glass pipes, drug-checking tools such as fentanyl test strips, and so on before doing so.

Even if it’s illegal where you live, you can often bypass such laws by becoming approved by your state or municipality to distribute such supplies or otherwise engage in harm-reduction-related activities.

Educate Others About Safe Drug Use Best Practices

Naloxone can’t, in practice, be self-administered by opioid users who experience overdose. Although research has outlined a handful of cases of naloxone self-administration during opioid overdose, it rarely happens in the real world.

Tell others that opioids should never be used unless users can be accompanied by at least one non-drug-using person who is willing to keep a constant eye on you for signs of opioid overdose. This person — or people, ideally — should be informed regarding the administration of naloxone, as well as what to do following administration.

These are just a few important best practices in drug use. Inform real-life peers about these things, or feel free to do so online.

If you don’t know things well enough to explain them in your own words, you’re not in any kind of spot to even attempt to educate others about such things — in this case, it’s harm reduction as related to drugs.

This Isn’t an Exhaustive List

By no means is this an all-out, full list of practical things anybody can do to engage in harm reduction advocacy.

However, these are a few good places to get started.

Do what you’re best suited to do! Please don’t resign to just posting about this stuff on social media, as it’s so ineffective relative to the other practices mentioned above. Wouldn’t it be a shame to be passionate enough about a subject like this to do advocate for it only to not engage in effective strategies?

It certainly would be a shame nothing short of a complete, utter waste of your time.

There are several other issues with posting opinions on social media and attempting to advocate for things you believe in. Just know that you should try to do other things, given that you feasibly can.

What Should You Take Away From This?

If you don’t know what to do, reach out to trusted organizations like the Harm Reduction Coalition and the Drug Policy Alliance, as well as smaller, locally- or regionally-focused non-profit organizations and government agencies like Middle Tennessee’s Street Works and East Tennessee’s STEP TN both of which are syringe services programs, and ask for help becoming an active advocate for harm reduction or drug policy reform. Individuals who are also passionate about this stuff are also willing to help you do so. You can meet reliable, well-versed, reputable people who know their stuff and who are willing to provide mentorship to eager, open-eared beginners like yourself by becoming active in harm reduction groups on social media and elsewhere online.

Forums such as Reddit’s Opiates subreddit, also known as r/Opiates, can be useful in finding this kind of help, as well as seeking out references and vouchers for various individuals, organizations, and agencies across the U.S. — and the world at large, for that matter.

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

7 replies on “Real-World Things Anybody Can Do to Advance Harm Reduction”

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