Open reSource Consulting


  • Heather Edney’s Harm Reduction Archive constitutes one of the only known holdings of harm reduction material related to the decade when needle exchange went from being illegal to becoming a national model of holistic healthcare for people who use drugs.

  • One of the seismic shifts from first generation AIDS risk reduction into the second decade was the influence of women and their role in introducing holistic healthcare services into the field. Out in the lead were Heather Edney and the women of Santa Cruz Needle Exchange Program.

  • Despite the lack of funding and illegal nature of syringe distribution, Heather Edney cofounded one of the earliest harm reduction programs in the United States. She and a dedicated team of volunteers engineered an innovative DIY organization from 1989-2003 that utilized punk aesthetics, Feminist & Queer theory, cutting edge harm reduction modalities as well as creating one of the first risk reduction models that included holistic healthcare practices.

  • For the first decade that SCNEP was in operation, Edney generated donations through her collaboration with local artists and musicians, creating an underground scene that attracted two communities most at risk for HIV-homeless youth and women trading sex for drugs. 

    • After years of fighting for a seat at the table with AIDS organizations primarily focused on the welfare of immunocompromised gay men, Edney secured funding for two Drop-in Centers with space reserved for youth and women. Syringe exchange was still illegal in California, but SCNEP was the only program of its kind, attracting researchers from UCSF and UCSC. 

      Edney leveraged this legitimacy against the political forces that tried to shut SCNEP down. For the first 13 years of the program's existence, SCNEP was unique in that it was staffed by young female drug users who developed programs and educational materials that are foundational to the way harm reduction services are delivered today. They also pioneered the hiring and staffing of active drug users as a model that continues to be replicated. 

      While Edney' s strategic alliance with educational institutions allowed SCNEP to provide services during a time when volunteers and participants were getting arrested, it was Edney's collaboration with artists that put SCNEP on the map. Edney was unapologetic in her approach, using art and photography to communicate safer drug using technique. Edney collaborated with numerous artists over the course of her tenure as Executive Director of SCNEP and their work is central to this archive. 



      There’s a long history in grassroots activism of providing informational outreach material on legal rights should you get arrested during a direct action.  These were provided during most of the major Gay Liberation protests in the Bay Area, as well as during the 1960’s civil rights and revolutionary political protests. 
      As AIDS Activists involved in early harm reduction and direct action protests, we were routinely harassed and arrested by local police departments.  For the novice protester or first timer, “Know Your Rights” sheets were dispensed before each action that had been drafted by various legal firms offering pro bono help.  These simple instructions could mean the difference between a quick release or overnight stay in the “queer tank”.
      That Heather Edney and the other harm reductionists of SCNEP carried on this tradition is a testament to her prescience in that particular history of radical activism.  They were taking the most practical and useful elements of those earlier movements and applying them to their own.  This use of long standing monkey-wrenching tactics that had successfully been employed in previous struggles for freedom would join with their newly developing harm reduction model to create a sweeping agenda of reform and change that continues to guide the conversation around the decriminalization of drugs. 
      These particular legal informational Xerox flyers created by Heather Edney and artist Eleanor Herasimchuk are illustrative of the exchange’s use of punk aesthetics, and highlights their cut and paste method that would easily attract the attention of young drug users. 

      Creative outreach strategies like zines and flyers, drop-in hours for women, childcare, and services for young people were important pillars of community care. Feminism, and the leadership of young women was central to their work. This mirrored a major change that took place in the second generation of AIDS risk reduction, a movement whose approaches had previously centered men and often overlooked the needs of women.