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Embracing Change: Providing Program Specific Harm Reduction Technical Assistance

By Lisa Carter and Jill Eriksen, Mid-America ATTC and Katie Burk, Facente Consulting

SAMHSA defines Harm Reduction as “a comprehensive approach to addressing substance use disorders through prevention, treatment, and recovery where individuals who use substances set their own goals. Harm reduction organizations incorporate a spectrum of strategies that meet people “where they are” on their own terms and may serve as a pathway to additional prevention, treatment, and recovery services.” 

SAMHSA is increasingly encouraging the integration of harm reduction philosophy and programming in drug treatment and prevention programs. In response, the Mid-America ATTC partnered with Katie Burk, MPH, a managing consultant from Facente Consulting, to launch a harm reduction consultation pilot program in early 2022.  

“It was really gratifying to support the agencies around their processes of reflection and inventory around their own policies,” Burk said. “It is not easy to take a critical look at your practice, but the agencies really leaned into thinking about where they could adjust and evolve to more meaningfully incorporate a harm reduction framework in their engagement with clients.”

The goal of this program was to act as a harm reduction resource to empower individuals and organizations that wish to educate, implement, or improve evidence-based practices within their systems to reduce stigma and promote the safety and well-being of people who use drugs. Mid-America ATTC distributed applications to organizations in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.  Applicants answered a brief questionnaire assessing their organization’s understanding of harm-reduction principles, current practices, and what level of technical assistance they wished to receive. 

The Harm Reduction Team was able to support four agencies, three of which were drug treatment and mental health organizations, and one local Health Department. The agencies were located in Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. The team developed a harm reduction assessment tool that they used in their initial meeting with each applicant. The Harm Reduction team worked cooperatively with each agency to develop a technical assistance plan and identify appropriate technical support.  The team provided harm reduction support utilizing a variety of formats, including: 

  • Conducted Harm Reduction: 101 basic training for staff and key partners
  • Facilitated conversations with management and discussed harm reduction value alignment within the organization
  • Reviewed current organizational policies and procedures and proposed areas of improvement to reflect evidence-based harm reduction principles. 
  • Provided technical assistance around integrating peer support services into more comprehensive recovery programming
  • Developed train-the-trainer materials for harm-reduction activities
  • Created tailored flyers, resources, and tip sheets per organization.   
  • Provided national resources that provide harm-reduction training to peer support workers, community awareness campaigns, and naloxone distribution 

Jill Eriksen, a senior project manager from the Mid-America ATTC worked closely on the project. 

“Harm Reduction takes a compassionate approach to people that have substance use disorders.  Agencies understand the importance of shifting the paradigm to engage their clients in meaningful change that empowers the individual to take an active role in seeking and committing to long-term recovery,” she said. “This pilot program was a great opportunity to listen to agencies and tailor their training needs to help them advance their treatment services. Overall, the pilot program was successful, and we received positive feedback from all four agencies.” 

The Mid- America ATTC also simultaneously launched a smaller initiative to offer stigma training and naloxone kits to agencies.  Two hundred safety kits were assembled that contained naloxone nasal spray, a Deterra disposal pack, fentanyl testing strips, and instructional materials in both Spanish and English. The kits were distributed to local agencies, along with naloxone and stigma reduction training.  

Harm reduction kit compiled by Mid-America ATTC.

“A major misconception with harm reduction is that we are enabling people with substance use disorders to continue to use,” Eriksen said. “The truth is that harm reduction is a tool to create a relationship with the client that provides trust and an opportunity to encourage recovery.  Recovery often is a process, and harm reduction practices can serve as a valuable bridge to assist a client in safely moving from actively using to making a personal decision to choose sobriety.” 

About the contributors:

Lisa Carter, MS, LPC, LCAC, is the co-director of the Mid-America ATTC and has over 25 years of experience as a licensed clinical addiction counselor.  Before coming to Mid-America ATTC, she directed numerous substance use disorder treatment programs across the continuum of care. Lisa has provided training and consultation to professionals and related organizations in the field in the Midwest. She serves on the Addiction Counselor Advisory Committee of the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board. 

Jill Eriksen, MBA, is a Senior Project Manager, in the Collaborative to Advance Health Services at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She has over 15 years of public health experience as a Director of Community Health, working on a variety of topics such as communicable disease surveillance and reporting, harm reduction, emergency management and public health strategic planning grant writing.

Katie Burk, MPH, has over 20 years of experience in program development and capacity building with an emphasis on the health and wellness of people who use drugs. Katie is currently a managing consultant at Facente Consulting, where she leads various projects assessing and evaluating harm reduction programs. Previously she served as the Viral Hepatitis Coordinator at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, where she developed a portfolio of Hepatitis C services for people who use drugs and co-founded End Hep C SF, the first citywide Hepatitis C elimination initiative in the United States.


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The opinions expressed herein are the views of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), SAMHSA, CSAT or the ATTC Network. No official support or endorsement of DHHS, SAMHSA, or CSAT for the opinions of authors presented in this e-publication is intended or should be inferred.