Erin Russell, MPH
Erin Russell is a dedicated harm reduction expert with an unwavering commitment to public health and equity.
Prior to joining HMA, Erin worked at the Maryland Department of Health, where she played a crucial role in developing the state’s harm reduction portfolio. She spearheaded the establishment of Maryland’s centralized naloxone access program, advocated for the legalization of syringe service programs and drug checking technologies, and created a sustainable funding pipeline for implementation and evaluation. Under her leadership, the Center for Harm Reduction Services was established, doubling its budget and size from 2019 to 2023 and expanding harm reduction efforts across the entire state.
Erin collaborated with state governments and prevention professionals to amplify naloxone access, explore innovative approaches to distribution, and improve the quality of harm reduction services. Her work involved conducting studies to assess readiness for harm reduction, designing and implementing community-based programs, and evaluating their impact. She applies implementation science perspectives to identify factors that facilitate or hinder program success, aiming to efficiently scale harm reduction programs while maintaining values of community-based, low-threshold, and person-centered care.
Actively engaging individuals and communities, Erin promotes risk reduction associated with drug use and fosters a non-judgmental and supportive environment at various levels, including individual, organizational, community, and policy. She advocates for informed decision-making regarding health and facilitates access to harm reduction services such as needle exchange programs, overdose prevention education, and resources for safer drug use practices. Erin volunteered at a local syringe service program from 2008 to 2013, which deepened her understanding of comprehensive care prioritizing human dignity, compassion, and social well-being. She progressively took on responsibilities such as data entry, educational material creation, volunteer training, and eventually served on the board of directors. In Pennsylvania, she founded a grassroots organization focused on mobilizing advocates for harm reduction policy change and served on its board of directors from 2017 to 2020.
Erin actively participates in public speaking engagements, workshops, and educational initiatives covering harm reduction strategies, overdose prevention, public health, and overdose fatality review. Her work has been published in multiple scientific journals, including an opinion piece in Scientific American.
Erin’s passion for harm reduction has taken her all over the world. She toured safe consumption facilities in Vancouver; conducted interviews of providers at Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) clinics in Nairobi, Kenya; handed out naloxone in Porto, Portugal; and visited with women-run organizations in Barcelona. She channeled the inspiration from these trips into her work. As a result of her travels, she is keyed-in to the latest developments and evidence in the field and has a global perspective that enhances the development of local harm reduction systems in the United States.
Erin has a Master of Public Health and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) degree at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and is a Bloomberg American Health Initiative Fellow. In her leisure time, she enjoys rock climbing, hiking with her dog, and traveling.