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The 2014 National Harm Reduction Conference is off and running!

The 2014 National Harm Reduction Conference is off and running! On our first visit to Baltimore, Harm Reduction Coalition staff took in the hotel and met with a few local partners to fire up the conference organizing process.

“Baltimore is such a great location for a conference. The community is fantastic. It has a long history of harm reduction. It’s culturally relevant. It has great institutions and we are really excited to be coming here,” says Maria Chavez, National Conference Organizer.

We visited with Jacqueline Robarge, Director of Power Inside, and a few clients, staff, and an adorable Chihuahua named Daisy. Power Inside is housed in a Georgian style house on the east side of Baltimore, providing support for women who are impacted by incarceration and gender-based violence. Jacqueline expressed excitement about the conference coming to Baltimore, and the networking opportunities that it would provide for agencies that provide harm reduction services.

The conference is located at the Renaissance Hotel in the downtown Inner Harbor area of the city, close to restaurants and great for walking, running or sitting around looking at the water. A hell of a lot further away from tourist central  are the headquarters of the City’s syringe exchange program, which are located in a grassy, tree-lined neighborhood very different from the image shown on The Wire although that is equally real. Jeffrey Long, Assistant Program Manager, explained that the City has 14 exchange sites and is available as much as 14 hours some days. Wound care, help with entitlements and other services are free on the mobile unit. Thomas Clemmons, Staying Alive Program Coordinator, Baltimore’s vital overdose program, Chris Serio-Chapman, Program Director, Community Risk Reduction Services, doyenne of the city-run harm reduction programs, and Natanya Robinowitz, the Special Programs Assistant were deep in a huddle revamping plans to commemorate World Overdose Day when we visited. Like everywhere else in the country, naloxone is crucial to saving lives and having a program that puts control in the hands of people who need it most is more than just another social service.

Kima Taylor, Director, National Drug Addiction Treatment and Harm Reduction Program for Open Society Foundations, is jazzed about the opportunity to assess and respond to how harm reduction is affected by 2014 developments in health care reform. “The train has left the station but no one is quite sure of the stops along the way or how long is in between stations or even if the final destination exists. But it is happening and it is better to be on the train than tied to its tracks.” (Actually she didn’t say that in those words exactly but that’s what we did talk about animatedly for a couple of hours).

“Harm reduction comes in all shapes and it will be great to have it all come together at the conference,” says Ashan Veerkumar of the Baltimore Students Harm Reduction Coalition. The legendary white-haired handsome man Professor Donny Gann is already helping nail down methadone, buprenorphine and a soccer field. “There are some things you can’t do without at a national harm reduction conference.”

Baltimore might not have a Fortune 500 company any longer but it does have legends galore. Any place that can boast and claim Billie Holiday, Dashiell Hammett, Barry Levinson, John Waters, Divine and The Wire is pretty cool.

“I’ve worked hard and long to bring the conference to Baltimore. I’m glad we’re finally here,” says Susan Sherman, Harm Reduction Coalition Board member and Associate Professor in the Epidemiology Department at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The conference will take place at the Renaissance Hotel, October 23-26, 2014, in Baltimore. Syringes, naloxone, buprenorphine, substance use management groups, 12 step meetings and CMEs will be available. For more information contact Maria Chavez at chavez@harmreduction.org

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