Harm Reduction Action Center

Case Study

Denver, CO
HRAC demonstrates how a program that cannot provide take-home naloxone at this time has found creative ways to still provide overdose prevention services.

HRACSince 2002, the Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) has been the only Colorado public health agency providing specific health information and holistic services to injection drug users and their sexual partners.  The mission of the HRAC is to educate, empower, and advocate for the health and dignity of Metro-Denver’s injection drug users and affected partners, in accordance with harm reduction principles.  Guided by the principles of compassion, mutual respect and evidence-based solutions, the Harm Reduction Action Center seeks not only to meet immediate needs but to impart skills, education and behaviors needed to maintain personal health, reduce the harmful effects of marginalized lifestyles, and reduce injection-impacted health risks for the larger public.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, overdoses in Colorado have tripled in the last 10 years.  Denver, specifically, has been experiencing fatal overdoses too frequently, with 8 fatal overdoses in 6 weeks on Denver’s Capitol Hill.  Unfortunately, the Harm Reduction Action Center’s overdose memorial in our front room (where we put framed pictures or handwritten names of program participants that have fatally overdosed) has grown so much in the last couple of years that we’ve had to expand the memorial.

It is very frustrating to not have the ability to possess naloxone or dispense naloxone to our program participants and their drug/social networks. As of now, we have not been able to find a prescribing physician to help facilitate a take-home naloxone program. We have approached several doctors and have been met with resistance, and the belief that providing take-home naloxone is illegal and that we will get in a lot of trouble for doing it. We are continuing to approach different doctors to educate them about the possibility of doing a take-home naloxone program. It is slow going in Colorado—syringe exchange programs were just made legal last year and we will finally be able to legally exchange syringes in Denver by October 2011.

But in the meantime, until we can start a take-home naloxone program, the Harm Reduction Action Center provides overdose prevention messaging in two of our health education classes (Break the Cycle & STRIVE) along with quarterly overdose prevention trainings. We prepare folks how to detect an overdose, how to call 911without telling the operator that it is an overdose (an effort to keep law enforcement away), rescue breathing, and keeping everyone calm.  Also, our overdose messaging dispels the myths of ice up the ass, shooting someone up with milk/saltwater, and other street myths.

Harm Reduction Action Center program participants continually ask for 1-on-1 consultations for past overdose issues or will often come to our agency first thing, the morning after an overdose.  We take that opportunity to listen and offer encouragement of their efforts during such a stressful time.   We honor August 31, International Overdose Awareness Day by organizing events in downtown Denver to speak about overdose and the stigma associated with drug use and overdose.  Many mothers come up to us and cry, as they have never been able to properly grieve for their child – as a fatal overdose can be stigmatizing for the entire family.  In the event of a fatal overdose of a program participant, the Harm Reduction Action Center requests an autopsy from the Denver County Coroner and provides a memorial at our next all-IDU Advisory Committee meeting (which meets the 3rd Friday of every month).  The Harm Reduction Action Center looks forward to the day, when we never have to add another person to our overdose memorial.

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