National Harm Reduction Coalition has been providing capacity building and training in the region since before the 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana catapulted risks associated with increased injection drug use of opioids to national attention. We were confident that there were harm reduction champions in the region that we wanted to learn from and support. As part of the process to create a request for proposals, we added several components that would center the experience and insights of community experts to ensure that our grantmaking was addressing the key issues:
- Spotlight on local providers and people who use drugs: We collaborated on state launch events in all five states, including reaching out to harm reduction providers and people with histories of drug use to either sit on the panel discussion and/or to be the spotlight speaker to bring their lived experience into the room.
- Survey the landscape: We hosted listening sessions in each of the states to learn more from local providers, elected officials, health departments, social service providers, people who receive harm reduction services, and other community members to tell us what was happening in their state to promote (or inhibit) harm reduction services and community education to challenge stigma associated with drug use.
- Consult local providers and people who use drugs: We conducted nearly 60 in-depth phone interviews to learn more about local dynamics, funding limitations, training and capacity building needs, and access to harm reduction services to inform both the request for proposals and technical assistance provision.
- Center people who use drugs: We held a separate consultation with people who use drugs to discuss what meaningful accountability and inclusion looks like in programs and projects to inform our grant review scoring guide and discussion.
- Articulate values: The grant review committee was recruited to incorporate lived experience, regional ties, and diversity of age, race/ethnicity, gender, geographic location, and type of provider to ensure that the committee was bringing a variety of experiences and perspectives that would center our values.
“Being acknowledged as someone worth spotlighting reaffirmed that the work I do must go on. For so long, it felt like taboo. Being a spotlight speaker was the first time I was asked how I felt about these public health issues that have intertwined in my life — for as long as I can remember. I also felt scared to get in front of people that make decisions… Even though I brought up some pretty tough subjects, I felt more connected to a national movement that cared about drug user health… I felt relieved to not be alone and I felt like I had more strength to carry on the mission.” — Sara Alese, Tennessee Recovery Alliance