PCSE Seed Grants in Action: Report #1 from Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative

Each year, the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship awards $5,000 seed grants to fund the launch or early-stage growth of a project, program, or venture. The Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative run by Livia Cox ’22 and Nick Wells ’20 was one of this year’s winners. This is their first report since receiving funding from the PCSE in March 2020.

The Opioid Harm Reduction Initiative is a public charity committed to reducing the number of deaths by opioid overdose through medical education and the free dissemination of lifesaving resources. This endeavor is founded upon three pillars: prevent, provide, protect. This entails preventing death by overdose through comprehensive community education, providing  naloxone free of charge to those in need, and protecting opioid overdose survivors along their often-nonlinear paths to eventual recovery. The organization is deeply rooted in community efforts, grounded in the premise that to empower an individual to save a life is to start a rippling movement of strength and resilience within and across communities. It is our sincerest belief that the opioid epidemic is a part of a much larger epidemic, which is one of pain and suffering. We approach our work with this understanding, accompanied by the utmost degree of compassion; we bring naloxone with us, and leave judgement far behind. 

Our work as EMTs has made us poignantly aware of the severity of the opioid epidemic in our region. Connecticut has the tenth highest death by overdose rate in the nation, and where other states’ death by overdose rates have declined in the last few years, Connecticut’s has remained about the same. Although not a decline, we attribute this plateau to harm reduction efforts in major cities such as Hartford and New Haven. As we’ve continued to reach out to harm reduction coalitions nationwide, our admiration for this model, which provides a non-judgmental, non-coercive delivery of services and resources to those who struggle with opioid addiction, has only grown. 

Upon receiving of the PCSE Seed Grant, we began designing a website, which has since gone live. We’ve continued our work with Lance Williams (a new graduate!) and the Follow Me Home team, with the hopes of incorporating fellows as naloxone training session leaders in the upcoming academic year. We’re also in conversation with the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, with prospects of future collaboration. We’re formulating a full board, and are in the process of acquiring federal nonprofit status as a 501(c)3 organization. Although these past few months have imposed challenges upon our initial goals with the abrupt in person conclusion of Nick and Lance’s senior years and certainly the increasingly complicated nature of our work on the ambulance, as well as our inability to attend the Clinton Foundation’s 2020 CGIU Conference in Edinburgh, we remain dedicated as ever to our mission and committed to seeing our efforts through in innovative safe, and exciting new ways.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having posed some challenges to our initial timeline, the importance of our work has only amplified. Novel coronavirus outbreaks have worsened the opioid epidemic with states such as Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina reporting a staggering number of opioid overdose deaths just this month. The closure of community centers such as libraries have disproportionately impacted homeless populations, who prior to COVID-19 were nine times more likely to die of an opioid overdose than the housed – this too has only increased. Addiction doesn’t vanquish during pandemic times; rather, access to care is diminished as are the chances of revival should an overdose occur. With this in mind, we are focusing our efforts on ensuring the safe and effective delivery of lifesaving resources such as naloxone (with attached instructional pamphlets and carabiners) to community members who may otherwise lack these resources, especially now. We continue to work with our mentors, the OHRI team, and are eager to have the support of the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition and other community partners to ensure that the integrity and increasing importance of our work is carried out in a safe and compassionate manner within our community and beyond.