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Jess' Journey Into Harm Reduction

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

A rectangular graphic that says "Jess' Journey Into Harm Reduction". The back of the background is bright blue paper. To the left there is an orange/yellow tinted picture of Jess. Jess is a white woman with shoulder length brown hair. She is looking at the camera and smiling.
Jess' Journey Into Harm Reduction

Article By Jessica Defranca with assistance from Han Hamel

Graphics By Han Hamel

Hello fellow Harm Reduction enthusiasts! My name is Jessica Defranca and I have been working with NHHRC for a little over a month. Within this month I have witnessed Risk Reduction, Harm Reduction, and harm education. I have felt a whole spectrum of emotions from inundated and overwhelmed to humbled to spirited and propelled!

Since beginning this fascinating journey with NHHRC I have found that it is a whole different ball game compared to traditional abstinence based programs and agencies. NHHRC is raw, authentic, compassionate, and is dedicated to preventing overdose the right way (in my humble opinion); and when I say the right way, I mean, the most humane way.

Over the years I have worked in a plethora of agencies including abstinence-based addiction programs, intensive case management for state benefits, workforce development contract grant programs, and now currently find myself at the CDC Foundation working under the OD2A Grant Program, (also known as the Opiate Data 2 Action Program Overdose Data to Action | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center). This grant program has allowed me to work closely with the NH Harm Reduction Coalition (NHHRC) as a Linkage to Care Coordinator. In this role, I will offer support by identifying opportunities and barriers to accessing care and work with staff to provide guidance to overcome challenges, create effective processes and increase collaboration.

A horizontal graphic with a bright blue paper background. There are three women featured on the graphic. On the left is Lauren a white woman with shoulder length black hair. She is looking at the camera and smiling. The middle features Donna a white woman with shoulder length brown hair. She is looking at the camera and smiling. Kellene is featured on the right, she is a white woman with shoulder length brown hair. She is looking at the camera and smiling.
Meet the team

Let me tell you a little bit about the NHHRC team. Executive Director, Lauren MgGinley was my first point of contact. I remember her fondly from my interview and thinking to myself, “she would be great to work with” and keeping my fingers crossed that the position would become mine. Lauren is personable, funny, and I absolutely believe she would win any game show about Harm Reduction trivia. Her knowledge around this social justice movement is admirable. Along with Lauren, I met the Director of Care Coordination, Donna Harbison. Donna is cheerful, with a big heart, cares about the greater good and about spreading radical love. This is abundantly clear when hearing about her interactions with the community.

A horizontal graphic with a bright blue paper background. The graphic features three people, all pictures are orange/yellow tinted. Liz is featured on the left. Liz is a white woman with shoulder length brown/blonde hair. She is looking at the camera and smiling. Palana is feature in the middle. She is a white woman with short blonde hair, she is looking at the camera and smiling. Han is featured on the right. Han is a white non binary person with short brown hair. They are looking at the camera and smiling.
Meet the team two

Next, I met some of the dedicated and hard working Care Coordinators of NHHRC: Kellene Mulcahy (Manchester Area), Liz Beaule (Concord Area), and Palana Hunt-Hawkins (now our Director of Operations) (Seacoast Area). They are all impressively knowledgeable of Syringe Service Programs and other Overdose Prevention practices (which I am learning more about every day).

Lastly, I met the Director of Marketing, Han Hamel, who seems to have an array of artistic and creative talents (you can check out some of their work here) that I believe makes a difference in Harm Reduction Awareness. Meet the whole team here.

After meeting the team I began frantically training, making Harm Reduction flash cards, and placing sticky notes all over my desk (there’s SO much to learn). Once getting into the swing of things I realized Harm Reduction (just like my introduction to it) can get messy and be complex. Our once a week team huddle offers not just business matters, but authenticity and conversation that is full of laughing, humor, and asking each other their zodiac signs! I did appreciate finding out that Donna is an Aries, since I am too! #GoAries #fire

A horizontal graphic with a bright, blue paper background. All the pictures are orange/yellow tinted. On the left Kellene, a white woman with shoulder length brown hair is standing in front of an open car trunk. She is smiling and flashing a peace sign with one of her hands. The inside of the trunk is filled with supplies. To the left of Kellene there are pictures of a Narcan, Condoms, one syringe and some fentanyl test strips.
Syringe Service Program, Queen City

Once my initial introduction to the world of Harm Reduction was under way I was able to shadow at the SSP in Queen City. It was great to observe first hand the compassion and drive Kellene has for this community. She gets “in the zone” working the SSP out of the back of her trunk as she connects with participants, sometimes regulars, sometimes new folks and is able to get them their safety supplies. Here is some of what we can see in a day at Queen city:

  • Narcan kits

  • Fentanyl test strips

  • Safety injection kits for People Who Use Drugs (PWUD)

  • Safer snorting kits

  • Bubbles

  • Straight shooters

  • Safety kits for safe sex practices

  • Wound kits

–this all encompasses what Harm Reduction is, or overdose prevention is–strategies and practices put in place to minimize negative outcomes.

Although NHHRC has really changed the landscape of recovery and what is possible in NH, not all people or organizations feel the same. I began working on a project that collected data around sterile syringes being sold in pharmacies around NH. According to New Hampshire law, RSA 318:52-C, “a person who is over 18 years of age may legally purchase a hypodermic syringe or needle at a pharmacy without a prescription from a physician.” I placed calls to all the pharmacies surrounding three towns along the Seacoast. It was interesting to find out that still not all pharmacies are utilizing the law fully. It was even more disappointing to witness the stigma that continues around even mentioning the word “syringe”.

Only two pharmacies gave straightforward answers of selling syringes without a prescription at their locations. Many of the other pharmacies I called gave a roundabout answer of “it depends who is working” and “sometimes.” Other pharmacies stated they didn’t sell syringes (maybe just to get me off the phone?). To my surprise (or maybe not seeing how these calls were going), the stigma was real at one pharmacy in Exeter. When asked the question of needing a prescription or not for syringes, the employer said “sometimes” and went into further detail explaining that when they start to find dirty needles outside near the trash they change it to needing a prescription.

A horizontal graphic with a bright, blue paper background. Bold orange/yellow tinted text reads "pharmacy" right in the middle. There are three syringes above and below the text.

Making calls like this is just one of the many projects I will be working on while with NHHRC. I hope to continue growing the pharmacy syringe project regionally throughout New Hampshire to collect more data as well as make the public aware that stigma is prevalent. Continuing to educate the public (and private businesses like pharmacies) on overdose prevention and Harm Reduction practices will help to shift the paradigm.

The Linkage to Care role is a needed position in NH to bridge the gap between participant and resources. Resources like housing, benefits, financial stability, food stability, medical, transportation, treatment, etc. It isn't just finding a resource for an individual–it is making sure that resource can be trusted. This role will assist the jurisdiction site with surveillance, prevention and response activities within the Overdose Data to Action (OD2A) program. And I’m so happy that I’m the one who can now fulfill this role!

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