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Harm Reduction as an Essential Part of a Comprehensive Strategy to Combat the Opioid Epidemic 

Congressional Remarks
Congressional Remarks

On June 28, 2023, The National Prevention Science Coalition to Improve Lives  hosted a congressional briefing to discuss the policy relevance of harm reduction strategies to improve the physical and mental health and aid in the recovery of people of all ages who are using psychoactive substances, including opioids. Harm reduction is an effective public health policy that protects people who use drugs from other illnesses and injuries while they work to manage their usage and related health conditions. Some strategies include medications such as methadone and Narcan, as well as Good Samaritan Laws and stigma-reducing language. Support for these measures from health care professionals and policymakers is a critical piece of a comprehensive plan to combat the opioid epidemic.


People living with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) face various obstacles as an extension of their disorder. Many experience difficulty accessing the care they need to remain safe and healthy. This scenario is often compounded by the stigma people living with OUD face, in both daily interactions and healthcare encounters that are dehumanizing and discriminatory. OUD is a mental illness that requires intensive and longstanding treatment to lead the patient toward recovery. However, the public is not well informed about the nature of addiction; that it is not a sign of moral weakness or lack of volition, but rather, is a neurological and psychological disorder. Strikingly, only around a quarter of doctors receive addiction education during their medical training. This lack of understanding about the condition results in stigma, negative perceptions of medications that treat OUD, and reduced support for efforts that would otherwise benefit people with OUD. The consequences are dire for these individuals’ physical and mental health, relationships, employment and housing opportunities, and access to medical care.

Harm reduction measures have been implemented in several cities in the US. However, in other localities, harm reduction efforts are met with opposition by the public and policymakers who harbor misconceptions about the disease and believe harm reduction encourages illicit drug use. By increasing our understanding of the condition and incorporating scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of harm reduction into federal and local policymaking, routine medical training, and continued education, we can ensure that patients with OUD will have access to the care they need and that the potential to break the intergenerational cycle of addiction can be realized.

More Information About the Speakers:

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Dr. Robin Pollini

Dr. Robin Pollini is an Associate Professor at West Virginia University.  She is a substance abuse and infectious disease epidemiologist whose research focuses on mitigating the adverse health impacts of injection drug use; these include overdose, HIV, viral hepatitis, and serious injection-related bacterial infections like endocarditis. She uses innovative mixed methods study designs to examine how individual- and structural-level factors influence drug-related morbidity and mortality as well as health services access and utilization among people who inject drugs. Dr. Pollini has been Principal Investigator of several grants funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).


Dr. Glenn Sterner

Dr. Glenn Sterner is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at the Pennsylvania State University in Abington. He is an expert on opioid use disorder and stigma and sits on the Opioid Overdose Task Force for the State of Pennsylvania and is a founding member of the Penn State Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse. He is an affiliated faculty of the Criminal Justice Research Center at Penn State University Park. He serves as a faculty fellow of the Penn State University Administrative Data Accelerator. And he is the founder of the Share Your Opioid Story initiative.

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Dr. Zili Sloboda

Dr. Zili Sloboda is the President and CEO of Applied Prevention Science International and is  an expert in substance use prevention and epidemiology. Her current focus is on workforce development in prevention and the relationship between training and implementation of evidence-based prevention interventions and policies. She has served on the faculties of Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, the University of Illinois School of Public Health, and until the University of Akron. Prior to this last position, Dr. Sloboda worked for twelve years at the National Institute on Drug Abuse in several capacities, finally as the Director of the Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research. And she cofounded the Society for Prevention Research (SPR) in the United States and Europe.

 Provide links for each speaker.

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Shannon Hicks

Shannon Hicks is a CCAR Certified Recovery Coach Professional, Harm Reduction Specialist, SMART Recovery Facilitator, Prevention Facilitator for Youths, and a dedicated Advocate for Medication Assisted Recovery. She is currently a full-time college student working towards a Master of Social Work while working part time as a Youth Substance Prevention Facilitator. As a wife and mother to three daughters, Shannon is uniquely aware how chaotic substance use affects the entire family, not just the family member who has the SUD, and of how if love was enough to cure addiction, no one would be addicted. After surviving her third aortic valve replacement as a direct result of her OUD, she was determined to help others in her community who were in similar situations that she and her family had endured. Surviving what her doctors said was the un-survivable, Shannon worked hard to overcome her obstacles and made it her mission to be the change she wanted to see in the world, and to bring a sliver of hope to those who needed it most. She is a strong advocate for Medication Assisted Recovery and works to dispel many of the myths surrounding this pathway to recovery.


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Information on Harm Reduction:

Information on Stigma

Information Regarding MOUD's/Medication Assisted Therapy



  • OUTGROWING ADDICTION Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D. and Zach Rhoads

Research Articles

  • Fishbein DH, Sloboda Z. A National Strategy for Preventing Substance and Opioid Use Disorders Through Evidence-Based Prevention Programming that Fosters Healthy Outcomes in Our Youth. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2023 Mar;26(1):1-16. doi: 10.1007/s10567-022-00420-5. Epub 2022 Dec 21. PMID: 36542196; PMCID: PMC9768412.

  • Sloboda, Z. (2009).  School Prevention, In Leukefeld, C., Gullotta, T., & Tindall,  M.S.(Eds.). Handbook on Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment: Evidence-Based Practices. New York: Springer Academic Publishing, pp. 191-212.

  • Eisenberg, D. and Neighbors, K. (2007). In: Mary Ellen O'Connell, Thomas Boat, and Kenneth E. Warner, Editors; Committee on the Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Among Children, Youth and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council (p. 246) See:

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