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Welcome Harm Reduction Family and Friends!

The National Harm Reduction Conference is the most widely attended harm reduction gathering in the nation, and the only conference of its kind in the United States. Every two years, over a thousand leaders, decision makers, frontline service providers, community activists, people who use drugs and their allies come together to learn and build together.

This year’s conference comes at a time when harm reduction, health care, and drug policy reform have entered a dynamic and critical phase. The prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic has captured the nation’s attention, with renewed focus on transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis among people who inject drugs. These trends are reshaping the policy and public health landscapes, making harm reduction more urgent and relevant than ever before.

As harm reductionists our work is to level the playing field for people who use drugs. For the past 25 years we’ve been raging against the machine, but we’ve also learned how to dismantle it from the inside. And as a result, we can celebrate the partial lifting of the ban on federal support for syringe access programs. People in the White House are using phrases we’ve used for years and advocating alongside us for sane drug policies and expansion of public health approaches to substance use.

Yet, in spite of all we’ve accomplished, we are seeing unprecedented rates of people dying from fatal opioid overdoses. We are witnessing unprecedented rates of people being ripped from their communities and incarcerated for drug-related crimes.

The U.S. is at a pivotal moment in time: more than four decades after the civil rights movement America is once again faced with re-examining its regressive criminal justice policies and practices. In spite of what has been deemed a “kinder, gentler” response to the drug war, we know that not everyone has benefitted from this shift. If you’re poor or live in rural area, chances are you may not have access to expanded treatment and support services the way someone living in a region of the country with more resources and political will to change “the system.” If you’re homeless and living in an urban center, chances are you’ll be swept up in urban camp raids and left without the means to care for yourself in the way most people take for granted. If you’re a black or brown person it pretty much doesn’t matter where you live: chances are you will serve a disproportionately long sentence if found to be guilty of a drug-related crime.

The National Harm Reduction Conference is a time for renewal and rejuvenation, none of which can happen without the generous support of our sponsors or without you—our comrades. What better place, what better time, and who better than us to determine how to continue dismantling the system that keeps the people we love in harm’s way? So glad you are here with us—let’s plan the future. Together.

In Solidarity.

Monique Tula