Illustration by Ellen Litwiller

Members of the Coalition for Syringe Access (CSA) stand in solidarity with theMovement for Black Lives.

Black Lives Matter. Members of the Coalition for Syringe Access (CSA) stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and other anti-racist protesters in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement, Breonna Taylor at the hands of Louisville law enforcement, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless lives lost to police brutality and centuries of racism. For CSA advocates, the insidious, relentless devaluing of Black life and safety and the systemic oppression enacted through the War on Drugs is all too familiar. This state violence against our communities cannot continue. We uphold the values and goals of the Movement for Black Lives as central to our collective fight for justice and liberation. 

In this moment of collective rage and mourning, we call upon our movements--harm reductionists, drug policy reformers, drug users unions, those in recovery, and allies--to look inward and examine our roles in perpetuating white supremacy. It is long past time to center the experiences, voices, and leadership of Black communities in the struggle to end the War on Drugs. This is a crucial moment for self-reflection as we seek a more just future. It is particularly necessary to turn a critical eye toward practices of engaging and building relationships with law enforcement when pursuing health and safety for people who use drugs. An abolitionist politic, that acknowledges the fundamentally inequitable power of our systems and that seeks transformative justice, is needed now more than ever. 

The concept and practices of harm reduction emerged when official policies made it impossible for oppressed people to care for themselves and their loved ones. This lens exists precisely to assess the harms of bad policy and to create better, safer alternatives. We seek to meet people where they are at in order to help people achieve their life goals and desires through self-determination and positive change. Harm reduction recognizes the profound damage that ill-informed and misguided policies at all levels can create, and we call for examination of and changes to policies that embed and empower white supremacy. This includes policies and practices within law enforcement and the criminal-legal system that unjustly and overwhelmingly criminalize Black life.

The War on Drugs has militarized policing and serves as a pretext for inflicting violence on poor, Black, and Brown communities. The withholding of lifesaving resources and information has been a consistent and immoral tactic, resulting in countless preventable deaths and needless suffering. CSA seeks open access to resources for building and strengthening harm reduction and public health that help us move away from the carceral, punitive, and coercive approaches to substance use that have proven time and again to be racist, destructive, and simply ineffective. We know how to do better and our people deserve better. An approach grounded in harm reductionist philosophy and the principles of respect, dignity, compassion, and self-determination is our only way forward, to ensure health and safety for oppressed people and to address sources of trauma—which exacerbates substance use—directly.

Harm reduction is not merely about saving lives, it is about actively valuing and uplifting lives that are regularly deemed disposable. In order to do that, we must devote ourselves to addressing and dismantling the systems that devalue life at a structural level that are still operating today--through the carceral state, coercive provision of treatment for substance use disorder, and social and medical services built on surveillance, including probation and parole.

Black lives matter. Black life and joy and celebration matter. We join the many voices raised in anguish during this collective moment of righteous anger at the reprehensible murder of our loved ones by the state. We see you, we are with you, and we love you. A better future is possible, and we recommit to our part of the struggle to see that future realized. 

We call on our communities to consider the following ways to begin, expand, or continue the centering of health and safety of Black people. 

If you are operating a harm reduction program:

  • Evaluate relationships with local law enforcement and their benefit, or lack thereof, to the communities we serve
  • Evaluate internal policies for racial equity and stability, including salary, upward mobility, and benefits
  • Evaluate leadership structures and the meaningful inclusion of Black, Indigenous, Brown, and active drug users’ voices
  • Remove coercive incentives related to testing or participant access to care
  • Ensure the services you refer participants to are non-coercive and non-stigmatizing
  • Diversify community champions to support your program in order to decrease the influence of law enforcement opinions on program viability

If you are a community member who supports and values the lives of people who use drugs, particularly Black and Brown people who use drugs:

  • Review advocacy priorities and capacity, and your jurisdiction's legal landscape, including the criminalization of HIV/viral hepatitis transmission, syringe services, paraphernalia possession, sex work
  • Support local policy efforts that increase access to harm reduction services
  • Make your support known--stand in solidarity with your local harm reduction program that values and respects the lives of Black, Brown, and marginalized PWUDs
  • Diversify community champions to support your program in order to decrease the influence of law enforcement opinions on program viability
  • Hold your local organizations accountable by asking how they will operationalize their support, especially if they have made a formal statement of support

If you are supporting harm reduction programs financially or programmatically: 

  • Prioritize resources towards programs that have Black, Brown, and minority leadership and hire people who use drugs and others who are directly affected
  • Demand programs have mechanisms of accountability to the communities and individuals they serve
  • Ensure they are not coercive in nature, either through law enforcement involvement, social services, or surveillance-based policies
  • Ensure they are meaningfully engaging with communities of color and are advocating for increased services and focus on health for Black and Brown people

With love and solidarity,

AIDS United

Central Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition

Comer Family Foundation

Harm Reduction Coalition

Hepatitis C Mentor and Support Group-HCMSG

Hepatitis Education Project

Hep Free Hawaii

Higher Ground Harm Reduction

HIV Medicine Association

Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition


National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable

New Orleans Trystereo Harm Reduction Collective

No Overdose Baton Rouge

Reynolds Health Strategies

Yale University School of Public Health

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