Harm Reduction and Criminal Justice

ASAM State Chapters frequently advocate for policies that minimize the health harms of drug use such as the transmission of infectious disease, as well as the negative health effects of punitive drug policies. For example, many ASAM State Chapters have advocated for the expansion of needle and syringe exchange programs that serve as a point of contact to bring individuals with addiction into treatment.



Needle and syringe exchange programs have been shown to help reduce the deaths associated with infectious diseases like Hepatitis C, which is related to injection drug use in approximately 80% of cases. According to the North American Syringe Exchange Network, there are at least 375 syringe exchange programs across the country.


In addition, ASAM supports State Chapter advocacy efforts for wider access to naloxone to prevent or reverse respiratory arrest in the case of opioid overdose. At the federal level, ASAM has encouraged the FDA to approve an over-the-counter naloxone product through a process that demonstrates consumers understand the new label and can administer the medication.

Finally, ASAM supports State Chapter advocacy efforts to advance policies that expand access to evidence-based addiction treatment for people who are incarcerated, as well as polices that reduce harm to mothers and their children by taking a non-punitive, public health approach to drug use by pregnant women. 

Recent State Chapter Advocacy Successes:

  • In 2019, the Minnesota Society of Addiction Medicine partnered with Minnesota Doctors for Health Equity, the Minnesota Medical Association, and the Minnesota Chapter of the American College of Physicians to eliminate non-evidence-based sobriety requirements for accessing hepatitis C treatment in the state’s Medicaid program.
  • In 2019, the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine opposed a bill in Maine that would criminalize the transfer of a substance through breast milk from a mother to her child, which would deter postpartum patients from seeking needed care out of fear of incarceration.

Examples of Related State Chapter Advocacy:

  • Improve patient access to needle and syringe exchange programs to minimize harm from the injection of illicit drugs.
  • Expand access to naloxone across the continuum of addiction treatment – for example, permitting administration in schools, jails, and other facilities.
  • Reduce maternal and fetal harm through advocacy for the repeal of laws that impose punitive measures for maternal substance use rather than promoting effective prenatal health care services.
  • Consistent with recent court decisions, reduce barriers to treatment in jails and prisons and require correctional facilities to provide substance use screening, assessment, and access to medications for addiction treatment in order to promote recovery and reduce overdose deaths.
  • Advocate for new and expanded partnerships between departments of corrections and community treatment providers to coordinate to ensure uninterrupted patient care upon release from correctional facilities and re-entry into the community.

Focus Areas

Quick Links

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