Legalizing Drugs: Follow-Up with Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

Last week I got a chance to speak with Tricia Christensen, the Legislative Advocacy Coordinator at Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC), regarding my series on drug enforcement.

Some background: BHRC was formed by Baltimore-area students beginning in 2011 to educate the public about harm reduction, primarily through seminars and film screenings. So, for example, while we celebrate Billie Holiday with murals all over Baltimore,  BHRC tells people the story of how she was targeted and terrorized by Henry Anslinger’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics (which I didn’t get into in the series but have written about elsewhere), and what people can do to limit the harm that comes to stigmatized populations.

Today the organization has about 30 volunteers to supplement its small staff, and has expanded into areas beyond education. BHRC’s advocacy played a major role in the passage of Maryland’s “Good Samaritan” laws, which allow people to assist in emergency overdose situations without fearing prosecution for possession of drugs or paraphernalia, or for providing alcohol to minors.

BHRC was also the first non-governmental organization in Maryland to provide training to bystanders in overdose education and naloxone distribution (OEND). As Tricia says, users and the people close to them are the real first responders. And they are sometimes the difference between life and death before a professional arrives on the scene.

(Disclosure: Hearing Tricia say “naloxone” on the phone made me realize 1) I’m not sure if I had ever heard it said out loud before, and 2) I had spelled it wrong multiple times in my series. I’ve corrected it now.)

Regarding the connection between drug prohibition and violence, Tricia agrees that when dealers have no access to law enforcement, violence is their only (or easiest) recourse to resolve disputes. She pointed to a quote by then-Mayor Pugh I referenced in Part 2:

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