Jessica Lee Hurles: Harm Reduction is about “doing the right thing.”
A white picket fence bordering a quaint home with a yard for her children was the dream for Jessica Lee Hurles and because of the work of harm reduction, she is able to provide a loving home for her family.
The compassionate mother of four, says her favorite job is being a grandmother. Her second favorite job is being a harm reductionist.
Harm reduction is a radical act of love. It’s a set of strategies to help people who use drugs realize their sacred worth in a time of need. These strategies range from providing safe consumption sites, syringe exchange programs, supplying Narcan and other life-saving drugs like Naloxone that can reverse an overdose. Hurles noted that the biggest setback she faces are the laws and stigmatization that harm reductionists face because some people see it as enabling prolonged drug use, but the reality is that without harm reductionists there would be even more deaths and overdoses than there are, because they are there and serving.
“A lot of my work is underground. I work in Portsmouth, Ohio and right now I visit an apartment complex that faces 5 to 10 overdoses every day,” Hurles said. “I don’t consider this work for me, it’s about doing the right thing. It’s about being faithful. Jesus walked with the people, and I imagine him walking with me.”
She has been doing this work since March 2019, but underscores that it wasn’t always so easy. Hurles’ story with using drugs first began at age 11. She explained that living in the streets and shelters for over 20 years has propelled her need to help people who use drugs. She wants people to understand that they are worthy and sacred.
“I don’t work for anyone but the Lord,” Hurles said. “Recovery is not our goal and is not the goal for everyone, but it can mean someone wakes up and says ‘I’m going to do something differently today - I’m going to use less or use clean syringes - wherever it is that they feel empowered to make their own choices for their body.”