By Allison O’Reilly

Students in the Public Leadership Scholars program at this university organized a panel on harm reduction in terms of sex work and drug use, in line with their work with the nonprofit HIPS, on Thursday.

University students — namely Rachel Greenberg, Caroline Campbell, Heather Chen, Savannah Gaines, Sydney Ziegler and Kristin Dobson — all took part in organizing this event, largely  to give visibility to sex work and drug addiction issues they care deeply about.

Greenberg, a sophomore women’s studies and government and politics double major, said the group wanted to correctly “fill in the blanks” about sex work and drug use where pop culture and ignorance usually take place.

“We wanted to raise awareness and raise understanding,” Greenberg said. “We were specifically drawn to HIPS because they use the harm reduction model – instead of telling people that they shouldn’t be sex workers or they shouldn’t be addicted to drugs, they provide them with condoms so they don’t get diseases or clean needles so they don’t get infected.”

The panel included representatives from HIPS, the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and SHARE, a sexual health group on campus. The panelists discussed a wide range of issues, including the heroin epidemic, why people get involved in sex work and reducing harm in one’s own social circle.

Maurice “Mo” Abbey-Bey, a panelist from HIPS and Syringe Exchange Specialist, gave insight into the increase in popularity of opiate drugs

“Every time it looks like we have one killer under control, another one comes into our communities,” Abbey-Bey said. He went on to explain Naloxone, a life-saving drug for those overdosing on opiates, and gave his card to everyone in the audience.

Rachel Walker, a senior English and French double major, used to intern at HIPS and now volunteers there. She sat on the panel and helped explain how students can invoke harm reduction for safe sex, partying, mental health, a large homework load and various other stressors.

“The harm reduction philosophy is understanding that things don’t have to be perfect for you to make progress,” Walker said. “You don’t give up on yourself and other people just because you aren’t where you need to be or where you think someone else needs to be understanding how minor decisions can be really important and helpful in reducing harm.”

The event’s organizers went beyond raising awareness for issues and asked for various donations from attendees.

“[We asked people to bring] toiletries specifically because we asked HIPS what they need and they said a lot of their clients are desperately in need of toiletries, so we thought that would be the most obvious thing for us to collect,” Greenberg said.

For anyone interested in getting involved or learning more about HIPS, the website is http://www.hips.org/, or you can send monetary donations to @plfund2017 on Venmo until the end of the semester.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of teakwood’s Flickr account.

Allison O’Reilly is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at aoreill1@terpmail.umd.edu. 

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