Harm Reduction

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The fight for health care and against mass incarceration are one fight for the future of our communities. With the dramatic rise of opioid addiction in counties across Ohio and the criminalization of this critical public health issue, jails have become de facto destinations for treatment services. The distribution of Naloxone, medication used to counter the effects of opioid overdose, is limited to Health Departments, Public Safety Departments, and medical providers--a bottleneck that is costing lives. We believe affordable, quality, and life-saving care is a human right. Through our focus on drug treatment and addiction services, we push for policies that connect investment in treatment and public health and divestment from prisons.

The voices of active and former drug users are almost always missing from public conversations about criminal justice reform. Assumptions and ugly stereotypes often block the stories and values of users from rooms where decisions are made. We advocate for strategies to address harmful drug use and the overdose crisis that draw from the innovative ideas and lived experiences of those at the center of the crisis.

Our Work

The OOC is organizing across Ohio for a harm reduction vision that unites communities, expands who benefits from public health supports, and shifts public priorities to create a more inclusive and enriching harm reduction strategy. Our current policy priorities include:

  • Promote local harm reduction strategies with a focus on clean syringe access and Naloxone trainings in targeted counties;

  • Change state rules to allow non-medical and emergency personnel to carry and administer Naloxone in Ohio;

  • Preserve the social safety net, especially Medicaid expansion, so that people have access to basic health services.

By advancing these issues locally and in the state legislature, the OOC and our partners seek to redefine harm reduction, expand who belongs in the circle of human concern, and promote communities of care and compassion. 

The OOC has four core strategies to achieve our policy priorities:

  1. Build a statewide coalition of directly impacted users and survivors of the War on Drugs, called Unharming Ohio;

  2. Leverage civic engagement to reach people across Ohio;

  3. Unite emerging leaders together through convenings, leadership trainings, political education, and strategy opportunities; 

  4. Promote a critical understanding of how race and class impact the public narrative around responsibility and policy. 

In 2019, OOC launched Unharming Ohio, a statewide coalition of active drug users, former drug users, and those directly impacted by the War on Drugs. Through Unharming Ohio, we develop pockets of power around Ohio to challenge the dominant narrative about drug users and to develop the leadership skills of members to take effective action. Unharming Ohio will focus on statewide criminal justice reform; local and statewide harm reduction strategies; and investment in trauma recovery, healing, and mental health. 

Our partners include:

Unharming Ohio has chapters in 10 counties with active members participating in regular leadership trainings, local meetings, statewide and national calls, and coaching calls with OOC organizers. In Cincinnati, OOC is building a table of directly impacted people within the MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment) community, members of the Price Hill neighborhood, and End Slavery Cincinnati (a human trafficking support unit within the Salvation Army) to establish a survivor’s union. They will connect with the work of OOC’s River Valley team to reduce stigma and change local policy regarding drug laws and paraphernalia.


  • In 2019, OOC worked with Harm Reduction Ohio and Ohio Change Addiction Now to co-host a statewide harm reduction convening with families hurt by the overdose crisis, called, “Empowering Us: Nothing about Us without Us.” This two-day training and conference drew 58 people from 8 counties and launched the Unharming Ohio coalition. 

  • In 2019, OOC and partners organized “Building Prevention with Faith” in Cincinnati to bring together faith and community leaders with prevention professionals to build relationships and collaboratively develop a toolkit of resources on substance use and effective supports for people who use substances. 110 clergy and community members engaged in mutual learning and education, and three leaders shared their personal stories of around addiction and the role of grassroots movements to shift public narrative and policy. Inspired by the event, five churches hosted trainings on how to use Naloxone to counter opioid overdose. Three of those churches established teams to discuss safe use with their members.

  • As part of Governor Mike DeWine’s RecoveryOhio Initiative, the OOC secured $1 million in the proposed Naloxone distribution budget for community organizations to disperse. If approved by the state legislature, this will allow community organizations to legally distribute Naloxone after receiving training. Because of our advocacy, the Ohio Department of Health now recommends that every single Ohio health department carry sterile needles for syringe access. 

  • In 2019, OOC organized a two-day People’s Assembly to promote harm reduction and criminal justice reform and protect the social safety net from cuts and work requirements. We met with over 21 state legislators and mobilized over 100 people to three direct actions at the statehouse, Supreme Court, and Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.