Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

By Mark Powell

One Minute Can Save an Entire Life

It sounds like a movie plot: Iowa native makes good, gets an important job in Washington, DC where she learns a lot, then returns and uses that knowledge to help folks back home. But this story didn’t come out of Hollywood. It’s happening in Iowa City.

That’s where Sarah Ziegenhorn runs the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition (IHRC), a non-profit group that’s already making a big impact on the opioid crisis in the Hawkeye State. Many days you can find her alongside IHRC volunteers handing out free harm reduction supplies in Iowa City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and elsewhere. That is when she’s not advocating for policy change at the state capitol. Or when she’s not studying for a medical school exam. Because this full-time activist/full-time student is working toward becoming a doctor.

After Ziegenhorn received her undergraduate degree, she landed a job in Washington at the Institute of Medicine, a health policy think tank. She also worked with the syringe exchange program and harm reduction organization, HIPS, where she learned the importance of mitigating the negative consequences of drug use.

Returning to Iowa to attend medical school, she quickly realized she could apply the knowledge she had acquired in her home state where expertise on harm reduction was almost nonexistent. And so IHRC officially started on January 1, 2017. It operates a drop-in center and a dozen outreach sites that give away safe supplies to prevent infections among people who use drugs. Six months later, the organization started a naloxone distribution program, and today provides a mail-based service so that naloxone may reach people across the entire state. IHRC is also actively engaged in advocacy and education.