WASHINGTON (Oct. 4, 2021)—Over the past few months, the R Street Institute has been laser-focused on broadening the scope and expertise within its Integrated Harm Reduction policy program. Our vision and theory of change for the field is to minimize the potential negative consequences of risky behaviors through support of humane, effective public policy and harm reduction strategies working in concert to promote personal autonomy and well-being. As R Street continues to study harm reduction approaches in the fields of opioids, tobacco, cannabis, psychedelics, and mental and sexual health, it will engage a broad field of experts to educate lawmakers and the public about the value of integrating programs and policies to improve health outcomes.

To oversee and execute this strategy, Mazen Saleh joined the team as policy director. Saleh got his start in healthcare at Health Systems Research, Inc., where he worked on projects related to homelessness and HIV/AIDS. He spent over a decade working at the intersection of health and business strategy in health professions before joining R Street—serving in senior positions with the National League for Nursing and the Association of American Medical Colleges. His career spans roles focused on health education and research, strategic partnerships and business development. He holds a master’s degree in global health and development from University College London.

Two new senior fellows have joined the integrated harm reduction team under Saleh’s leadership: Dr. Stacey McKenna and Dr. Pritika Kumar. McKenna, a medical anthropologist who spent the past several years as a freelance journalist, has a doctorate in health and behavioral sciences from the University of Colorado at Denver. She was trained as a social scientist of health and medicine, and has studied how drug use affects health and well-being; how societies define, classify and regulate substances; and how prohibition plays out in people’s lives. She co-led field research on a National Institutes of Health study about methamphetamine use and survival in northern Colorado.

Kumar joins us from Altria Client Services where, as a regulatory scientist, she managed key projects exploring long-term health outcomes of reduced-risk tobacco products. In addition to tobacco harm reduction research, she brings a well-rounded background in harm reduction programs and research experience spanning from sexual and reproductive health to infectious diseases and substance abuse. She has worked for the United Nations and The World Bank, in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, integrated health systems and academia. Her research interests include social determinants of health, social norms, social capital and social networks, health disparities and equitable access. She holds a PhD in public health from Johns Hopkins University, an MPH from Harvard University and a master’s degree in applied social psychology from Delhi University.

They join Chelsea Boyd, a research fellow in the program, whose writing focuses on decreasing harmful health outcomes for people engaging in potentially risky behavior. She has applied harm reduction principles to topics including sexual health, mental health, substance use, infectious disease and the COVID-19 pandemic. Boyd’s public health experience also includes working for The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, serving as a research assistant at the District of Columbia Center for AIDS Research and a laboratory coordinator at Colorado State University’s Center for Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, formerly known as the Arthropod-borne Infectious Diseases Laboratory. She holds a master’s degree in epidemiology from The George Washington University.

Over the next few months, the team will develop Safer from Harm, a diverse coalition of like-minded organizations in support of harm reduction in all its forms. The program’s ultimate goal is to bring together stakeholders and allies, state partners, health organizations, legislators and their staff to showcase integrated harm reduction policy solutions—grounded in research—that help improve health outcomes in the lives of people of all ages, genders, races and socioeconomic levels.

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