Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition has been advocating for harm reduction policy since it was founded in 2011. This year, BHRC received funding to hire two new staff members who will focus on organizing all of us to do harm reduction policy advocacy for the state of Maryland. Tricia Christensen, legislative advocacy coordinator, and Key’Ayshia Tucker, legislative intern, are eager to discuss the principles of harm reduction with policy makers and other community organizations, as well as educate and influence communities to be more involved in state and local government decision-making. Below is an interview conducted by our director, Harriet Smith, with both Key’Ayshia and Tricia.
Harriet: What sparked your interest in harm reduction?
Tricia:It has only been in the last couple of years that I have begun using the term, but I have been practicing harm reduction for well over a decade. In college I did STI and pregnancy prevention education – I spent a lot of time brainstorming how to hand out condoms to college students while reducing stigma. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I practiced harm reduction when doing disease prevention education in a cultural context that was not my own. I have had a couple of jobs since then where we have used harm reduction and motivational interviewing as core practices and principles.
Additionally, I use harm reduction for myself in terms of a radical acceptance of who I am. It’s okay if sometimes I need to skip dinner and eat dessert. It’s important to be comfortable with myself and give myself what I need, like plenty of sleep and plenty of water.
Key’Ayshia: I have always been doing harm reduction, I didn’t know the term then. But I have always wanted to be in harm reduction, especially in light of my desire to become a nurse one day. I also got trained in administering narcan, recently. I have always wanted to prevent people from being in harms way – that is always where my heart has been at.
Harriet: How can policy makers be allies in the harm reduction movement?
Tricia: I feel like the term harm reduction is starting to be thrown around a lot in some ways that cheapen its meaning. In my mind, policy makers need to acknowledge at least two elements when thinking about harm reduction. First, there must be room for people with lived experience to be involved and appropriately compensated; and secondly, there must be an acknowledgement and normalizing of drug use on a spectrum – that many engage in causal drug use and some engage in more habitual drug use, while others don’t use at all. No matter where you are on that spectrum you deserve dignity and respect.
Key’Ayshia: Think about humanity. And think about the reality and the realism of everyday living. It may not be your reality. But it may be someone else’s.
Harriet: What are your hopes for the 2018 legislative session?
Tricia: I want to see some movement on legislation for innovative interventions like safer drug consumption spaces. I am hoping we don’t see an increase in punitive measures for drug use. I am hoping that more organizations and policy makers gain a deeper understanding of harm reduction and learn about BHRC. And I am hoping for a successful Harm Reduction Advocacy Day on March 7th! (register here!) [link to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScEAdbXqWBVaT245Rjup435sxuGF0zMGYYmuncXWECx3Kc2Xg/viewform]
Key’Ayshia: My hope is that we make an imprint. That we can make safer consumption spaces accessible immediately. And I am hoping that sex work is no longer a conversation that we can’t touch; there is value in the people who do sex work.
Harriet: Tricia, you once told me that while driving to Annapolis you could feel your excitement building as you got closer to the state house. What drives this excitement?
Tricia: I am energized by the hustle and bustle of Annapolis during session! And I get excited about the process of bringing together all these intelligent and passionate people to debate semantics; because words matter and the way that we frame policy problems is really important.
Harriet: Key’Ayshia, your passion for social change is so evident in the work you have engaged in for the past 6 years. What drives your passion for justice?
Key’Ayshia: Justice in itself is my drive. I have seen too many things swept under the rug, I have seen too many people turned away at the door. People tend to forget who is doing the work from their heart. This is a chance for me to do something beyond just talking. I have always been someone who challenges. I am ready; I am a fighter.
Harriet: How can people get involved in your work this year?
Tricia: Anyone interested can join the BHRC Policy Committee by emailing (bhrcpolicy-at-gmail-dot-com). They can also follow along with the blog and Facebook to keep updated on what harm reduction legislation we are following. I also encourage everyone passionate about harm reduction in Maryland to join us for Harm Reduction Advocacy Day on March 7 (register here!)
Key’Ayshia: I am all about educating. I am hoping that we can get more people, more involved. Ask how to join. Come out to our events!