By Mark Powell
Wanted: 500 Harm Reduction Advocates
Devin Reaves has a big dream. And he’s working hard to make it come true in order to do big things for Pennsylvania. A veteran advocate, he wants people in the Keystone state to do more to push for change. That’s why he set a goal of training 500 advocates in 2019. Think about that for a minute: 500 advocates!
Reaves is a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition. It’s a collaboration among treatment providers, harm reduction programs, medical entities, social service agencies, academia, criminal justice reform projects, activists, and ordinary people. The Coalition works to promote the health, dignity, and human rights of individuals who use drugs and communities impacted by drug misuse.
Reaves found that while people were doing a lot to promote awareness about addiction and drug misuse, things were moving too slowly. And in the state with the country’s highest number of overdose deaths (5,388 in 2017), there isn’t time to lose.
So, Reaves teamed up with public health expert Erin Haas in 2017 to create the Coalition. And they’ve pursued lofty goals ever since. The organization wants to expand access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs, as well as establish clean needle exchanges in a Syringe Access Network of Pennsylvania.
Then there are those 500 advocates. “With our available advocates, we’ll create local teams to address local problems,” Reaves explains. “We’re already holding advocate trainings at capacity, and I believe we will reach 500 for the year in no time.” He also envisions a special train-the-trainer session.
Other goals and plans include holding a statewide conference to teach the safety-first approach to the overdose epidemic; advocating for expanding access to syringe services; train 100 law enforcement officers about overdose response in ten training sessions over a year; and motivate all those new advocates into advocating in their communities.
In the end, it all comes down to the effort made by an individual. But what difference can one person make? “One person can make a huge difference,” Reaves says. “Remember, you only have to change the mind of one legislator.” That may be a small response, but when you multiply it by 500 a big dream can suddenly come true.
Pennsylvania Harm Reduction Coalition was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.