Harm reduction is a set of policies, programmes, services, and practical strategies aimed at minimizing negative health, social, and legal consequences for individuals and communities associated with stigmatized and/or illicit behaviors, particularly drug use. Harm reduction is an umbrella term that encompasses a broad range of activities, and as such there is no single universal definition or list of strict criteria that determine whether a program is harm reduction-based. However, a few core principles, as articulated by Harm Reduction International and by the National Harm Reduction Coalition are foundational to harm reduction-based approaches to care for people who use drugs:

  • Accept that drug use is part of human behavior and work to minimize harmful effects and promote safer practices, rather than condemn it or stigmatize it;
  • Respect and protect the human rights of people who use drugs;
  • Provide non-stigmatizing, non-judgmental, non-coercive services than “meet people where they are”;
  • Set as goals the maximization of people’s health, safety, and quality of life - rather than drug cessation - and encourage positive change in their lives, however they may define it;
  • Recognize that drug-related harm is deeply connected to poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex and gender discrimination, and other social inequalities, and thus a commitment to social justice and structural change is necessary to address drug-related harm;
  • Affirm people who use drugs as the agents of their own lives and ensure that they have a voice in the policies and programs that affect them;
  • Reduce the harms of prohibitionist and punitive drug laws and policy, which have failed to promote public health and have caused deep harm to individuals and communities.

GHJP understands harm reduction as foundational to the obtainment of health justice for people who use drugs and their communities. As such, we work to support and advocate for harm reduction-based initiatives in New Haven; for the past several years, this has included collaborative projects in support of the Sex Workers and Allies Network (SWAN), a harm reduction organization led by and for current and former street-based sex workers.

Strengthening connections and collaborations between harm reduction practitioners, advocates, and scholars

GHJP provides coordination support to the Connecticut Harm Reduction Working Group, an informal network of harm reduction practitioners, advocates, and scholars started by GHJP Co-Director Gregg Gonsalves and Director of Harm Reduction Research at the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine Ryan McNeil. The aim of the Working Group is to provide a space for harm reductionists to connect to share knowledge and resources, identify key needs and barriers for harm reduction across the state, form new collaborations, and coordinate joint advocacy. The following are initiatives of the Working Group that GHJP helped support.

Open letter to Governor Ned Lamont, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Department of Public Health on American Rescue Plan Act funding and harm reduction 

March 30, 2021

Read the press release here

Endorsing organizations as of April 14, 2021 include: Sex Workers and Allies Network, Alliance for Living, Ledge Light Health District, Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition Inc, Community Health Care Van/ Yale University, Yale Program in Addiction Medicine, Yale Global Health Justice Partnership, Hustle Hope, Inside/Outside, Kids Affected By Addiction, CT Bail Fund, Quinnipiack Valley Health District.

The open letter urges the Governor’s Office and State agencies to use American Rescue Plan funding to invest in vital harm reduction programs in Connecticut. Despite the need to address the overlapping crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis, harm reduction service providers have faced barriers in accessing necessary resources. Incoming funding from the American Rescue Plan Act provides Connecticut with a chance to address these gaps and invest in innovative, evidence-based, harm reduction-based approaches to drug treatment and overdose prevention. The letter provides several recommendations for the allocation of these funds to expand harm reduction services and divest from carceral and punitive systems that perpetuate harm against people who use drugs.


Responding to the health and rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for people who use drugs

The following letters, press releases and memos were released to the City of New Haven by the GHJP, SWAN, and other allied groups calling for immediate actions to protect the health and rights of marginalized persons, including people who are homeless, living in poverty, using substances and/or engaged in sex work, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What You Should Know About the Legal Power of Quarantine and Isolation in Connecticut

Working paper

Authored by Ali Miller; Zain Lakhani; Kayla Thomas; Anna Wherry. 

GHJP Co-Director Ali Miller and GHJP Clinic students Lakhani, Thomas, and Wherry co-authored a memo describing the scope and limitation of the power to mandate quarantine and isolation under Connecticut law, with a particular focus on the implication for the treatment and rights of New Haven's most vulnerable residents.

Activists Press “Harm Reduction” Response To Covid-19

May 8, 2020 in the New Haven Independent

Read the press release here

Endorsing organizations include: Stop Solitary-Connecticut; the Connecticut Harm Reduction Working Group; Sex Workers and Allies Network; Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition; Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; Alliance for Living; Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health; Yale Global Health Justice Partnership; One Standard of Justice

A coalition of local, statewide, and Yale-affiliated advocacy groups held a press conference calling on Governor Ned Lamont and mayors across Connecticut to implement comprehensive COVID-19 plans addressing the crisis in CT jails and prison as well as the needs of people experiencing homelessness, people who use drugs, people with disabilities, and street-involved persons, including sex workers.


Letter to Chief Otoniel Reyes, New Haven Police Department

April 8, 2020

Endorsing organizations include: Sex Worker and Allies Network (SWAN); CT Community Health Care Van; Yale Global Health Justice Partnership; Faultline Ensemble; Yale Program for Recovery and Community Health

The letter outlines demands for changes to policing and arrest practices to cease new incarceration as well as the routine criminalization of poverty, homelessness and survival-based behaviors.


Letter to Mayor Justin Elicker

March 27, 2020

Endorsing organizations include: Sex Workers and Allies Network; Yale Global Health Justice Partnership; Sex Workers Outreach Project – USA; National Health Care for the Homeless Council; New Haven Women’s Resettlement Working Group; Yale Community Health Care Van/Syringe Services Program; New Haven Legal Assistance Association

The letter details concerns and proposals for the City of New Haven on the development of accountable and publicly transparent plans and policies with regards to COVID-19 response to ensure cross-sectoral coordination and public consultation; the creation of responsive shelter, health service and housing options for people without housing; the opening of low-barrier drop-in centers; and changes to policing and carceral protocols.


Letter to Dr. Mehul Dalal, Community Services Administration

March 23, 2020

By the Sex Workers and Allies Network and Yale Global Health Justice Partnership

The letter identifies key considerations for the establishment of accessible bathrooms, low-barrier drop-in centers, and harm reduction-oriented temporary housing sites.


Harm reduction guidance for substance users during COVID-19

March 17, 2020

Created in collaboration by the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine, Global Health Justice Partnership, the Sex Workers and Allies Network, and Crackdown. Adapted with thanks from a document produced by 3D Research.

Public health and harm reduction experts offer guidance to substance users on how to stay safe during the pandemic and minimize risk of COVID-19 infection.