Working together to expand education, compassion, and dignity

Health Care and Rehabilitation Services (HCRS), southeastern Vermont’s non-profit community mental-health agency, and Northeastern University School of Law will present research related to harm reduction practices in Windham County on March 30, 2022 at 9:15 am. Harm reduction refers to reducing negative social or physical consequences associated with various behaviors – in this case drug use. This approach is premised on values of public health and human rights and addresses conditions of use as well as the use itself.

Law Office 6, a group of 14 first-year law students from Northeastern, has been collaborating with HCRS on a research project related to expansion of harm reduction policies within both the health care setting as well as within employment practices and policies. Even though harm reduction policies are well researched and demonstrate significant short and long-term health benefits, many providers and organizations feel concerned about the risks to their licensure and/or organizations when educating patients on safer drug use methods or supplies or discussing options for safer consumption.

The harm reduction manual created as a part of this project will provide tools for providers to feel more confident in implementing harm reduction services and approaches to care in their everyday work. The manual will further provide guidance on the benefits of hiring individuals with a spectrum of lived experiences, such as drug use. This project will further a collective commitment to social justice by expanding education, compassion, and dignity with regards to harm reduction as an evidence-based health care framework.

According to Rosie Nevins-Alderfer, Co-Director of the Windham County Consortium on Substance Use, “We are excited about the harm reduction research coming out of this collaborative project, and are hoping to draw a wide audience from across Vermont for the presentation on March 30.”

Brattleboro Memorial Hospital has also been an active partner in this project. “At Healthworks, our providers take the approach that the best way to meet the medical needs of people with Substance Use Disorder is to create a non-judgmental, non-coercive, and collaborative clinical environment,” said Rebecca Burns, RN, Director of Community Initiatives at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. “Supporting the person’s current situation and encouraging safer drug-use practices may seem counterintuitive to some, but it can easily make the difference between life and death, can yield better long-term health outcomes, and respects patient autonomy and consent. That’s why harm reduction matters and why we are happy to have worked on this project.”

To access the public presentation of this year’s research on March 30 at 9:15 am, click the following Zoom link:

This is the second year that Northeastern and HCRS have partnered on research related to addressing issues of substance use within the Windham County community. In 2020-21, Northeastern researched the viability of a safer consumption site in light of federal legal obstacles posed for Safehouse supervised injection sites. The guide from this research is available at

Nevins-Alderfer states, “Although HCRS has no intention of establishing a safer consumption site at this time, the inspiration for the research project was to comprehensively understand all the legal implications of a potential safe use site as it is recognized as a community need and well-researched and cost-effective health care intervention that reduces opioid fatalities in communities around the globe.”

The opioid epidemic has been devastating to communities in Vermont and both research guides, which will be available and posted on HCRS’ website ( following the March 30 presentation, are intended as tools for preserving the lives of residents of Windham County.

Professor Stevie Leahy, leading the project, emphasized the importance of collaboration amongst stakeholders at all levels. She noted, “Partnering with HCRS over the past two years has been incredibly rewarding, but also challenging in light of the many barriers to extending harm reduction practices. This is true not just in Windham County, but nationally. I am hopeful that the students’ work will have a positive impact on compiling the available legal information as well as working to increase education and understanding associated with certain activities that have been historically stigmatized and misunderstood.”

According to Representative Emilie Kornheiser of Brattleboro, “As we lose more of our community to unnecessary overdose deaths, and advocacy grows, I’m heartened to see our legislature ready to tackle the issue of safe consumption. Harm reduction does just that— reduces harm from unnecessary loss, crime, and conflict. We can all do better.”

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