RIZE Massachusetts Awards $250,000 in Grants to Train Social Workers in Harm Reduction Approach to Opioid Overdose Crisis

June 3, 2021

HaRT Scholars Program, First in Nation Internship Opportunity, Will Support Master’s Degree Students at Boston College, Bridgewater State University and Simmons University

BOSTON (June 3, 2021) – RIZE Massachusetts, an independent nonprofit foundation working to end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, today announced the creation of the Harm Reduction Training (HaRT) Scholars program and $250,000 in grant support for Master of Social Work degree programs at Boston College, Bridgewater State University and Simmons University.

The specialized internship program – the first of its kind in the country – will develop a pipeline of social workers who are trained in harm reduction, a clinical approach to preventing deaths and improving care for people suffering from opioid use disorder (OUD).  The two-year grant program will support paid internships and specialized training for a total of 32 HaRT Scholars at the three schools.  The model has the potential to be scaled and replicated nationally.

“Harm reduction, much like opioid use disorder itself, is often stigmatized by people who are unfamiliar with its scope and the evidence that demonstrates its positive, life-saving impact,” said Julie Burns, president and CEO of RIZE Massachusetts.  “We are pleased to partner with these three outstanding schools of social work as they incorporate harm reduction education and training into their curricula for the next generation of social workers who will serve on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.”

“Social workers are on the front lines of fighting the opioid epidemic, and the HaRT Scholars program is a meaningful way to empower them to offer more pathways to treatment and recovery,” said Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.  “This is another important step for the Commonwealth in providing compassionate, integrated behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment for our residents who need it.”

Harm reduction is an approach that focuses on reducing the negative consequences of drug use and supporting individuals in embracing any positive change in their lives and health.  The interventions can include a range of services such as syringe exchange, overdose education, naloxone distribution and drug checking.  Harm reduction itself should not be seen as a way to end opioid use, but rather as a survival plan that keeps people alive and safe until they decide to move onto a clinical treatment phase, and then hopefully, onto full recovery.

“Our organization is in strong support of the HaRT Scholars program,” said Rebekah Gewirtz, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers Massachusetts Chapter.  “RIZE has set a precedent to better educate social workers in harm reduction, and the field will benefit from this forward-thinking, innovative approach.  These three exceptional learning institutions will better prepare their graduate students with the harm reduction skills essential to promoting the value of client and community self-determination. 

Harm reduction services, especially when integrated with access to clinical addiction treatment programs, can prevent death and improve care for people living with OUD.  Additionally, findings from RIZE’s Enabling Health: Enhancing Harm Reduction and Saving Lives grant program identified a need to augment harm reduction services throughout the substance use disorder continuum, but found that many providers, including social workers, do not receive the proper training and specialized education for utilizing harm reduction approaches in their practice.

“We are so excited about being a RIZE grant recipient.  This is a ‘win’ for our public university, our students, faculty and agencies,” said Carol E. Bonner, Associate Dean of Bridgewater State University’s School of Social Work.  “The need for better trained social work professionals in harm reduction and other substance use disorder practices has been a longstanding issue.  Bravo to RIZE for supporting students and agencies through this unique, rich and timely opportunity to enhance competence in the practice of our graduates.”

The HaRT Scholars program will increase the clinical presence at harm reduction organizations to improve linkages to behavioral health and medical treatment.  In order to increase the presence of racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse social workers in the work of harm reduction, each participating university will specifically promote internships to Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students.


About RIZE Massachusetts

RIZE Massachusetts is an independent nonprofit foundation committed to achieving zero stigma and zero deaths related to opioid use disorder by investing in meaningful solutions and employing broad perspectives that will save lives, reduce harm, and end the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts.  For more information, visit www.rizema.org.