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Harm Reduction Approaches to Substance Use – Graduate Certificate (Online)

This graduate certificate will introduce students to the concept of harm reduction, discuss a range of harm reduction services and programs in the United States and beyond, and offer practical training on non-stigmatizing, social justice-oriented, and trauma-informed engagement strategies with people who use drugs. The certificate consists of three, 3-credit courses (i.e., 9 credits in total), offered in an asynchronous online format to provide optimal flexibility for students and professionals from various human service disciplines.

Students who complete the certificate will be able to:

  1. Identify major drug classifications, their routes of administration and neurobehavioral effects, and describe the major differences in current intervention approaches (i.e., abstinence-focused vs. harm reduction-focused).
  2. Define harm reduction and describe the major principles of harm reduction work.
  3. Describe the historical and social contexts of harm reduction work in the United States and other parts of the world.
  4. Demonstrate familiarity with a range of harm reduction interventions (e.g., syringe access programs, distribution of naloxone, medication-assisted treatment, supervised consumption sites), and the evidence base for their effectiveness.
  5. Demonstrate an understanding of major principles for client engagement using a harm reduction lens, and its therapeutic benefits to people who use drugs.
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  • Current graduate students enrolled in the Master of Social Work (MSW) program can complete the Harm Reduction Certificate as part of their elective coursework (i.e., with no additional tuition).
  • Non-degree students taking the certificate as a post-BA credential can transfer all 9 credits into the MSW program if they are accepted (please note that completing the certificate does not guarantee acceptance into the MSW program).


Svetlana Shpiegel, Ph.D, M.S.W.
Associate Professor and Certificate Coordinator
Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy

Jacqueline Catalano, MS
Program Manager
Department of Social Work and Child Advocacy



HLTH 511: Biomedical and Psychosocial Perspectives on Drugs (3 credits)

This course examines the complex biomedical and psychosocial dimensions of contemporary drug use, emphasizing consideration of a broad spectrum of physiological responses to and health consequences of involvement, as well as theories and models of prevention. Provides a comprehensive view of the historical and social aspects of drug use, and an analysis of selected major issues presented by our current problems with drugs, including public policy and ethics.

 SOWK 540: Harm Reduction Interventions in the Management of Substance Use and Misuse (3 credits)

This course provides an overview of harm reduction approaches to substance use, and the historical and social contexts of harm reduction work in the United States and globally. Students will become familiar with a range of harm reduction interventions, their major principles, and the challenges in their implementation. Students will also learn to critically evaluate available research on harm reduction interventions, and compare it with research on abstinence-based intervention programs.

 SOWK 541: Engaging Individuals Affected by Substance Use and Misuse (3 credits)

This course discusses major principles for engagement with people who use drugs, using a non-stigmatizing, social justice-oriented, and trauma-informed approach. Students will learn how to establish trusting, collaborative relationships with people affected by drug use, how to identify bias and stigma in common interactions, and how to practice self-reflection and self-regulation to maintain effective engagement. In addition, students will be able to identify the impact of clients` intersecting identities, cultural practices, and personal histories on engagement, disengagement, and reengagement processes.

Graduate Admissions

 Admission Requirements:

  • BA/ BS transcript
  • Undergraduate GPA minimum: 2.5
  • Resume (optional)
  • Fee (waived for Fall 2023)