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Meet Joshua Derrig, Syringe Exchange Program Manager

Joshua Derrig serves as HHHRC’s Syringe Exchange Program (SEP) Manager. He recently joined the HHHRC ‘ohana this past spring---accepting a position on our team when he realized that love, in its many forms, was calling his heart to make a home here.

Josh hails from the Southwest United States, spending much of his younger and adult life in New Mexico and Colorado. “I was born and raised in Albuquerque, NM, where I got my start in public health. Specifically in HIV prevention and education,” he said. “I left Albuquerque in 2011 and took a brief break from public health to hock eyeglasses in Denver.”

Like many of us here at HHHRC, Josh feels a strong pull to the field of public health and those that intersect it. Unable to stay away for long, he eventually found himself drawn back to work where he felt he could make the most impact on the communities he was called to serve.

“After getting myself established in my new city, I found myself being drawn back to public health service at Colorado Health Network (CHN). Much like HHHRC, CHN focuses on HIV care, support, prevention, and education. My work shifted some in the last two years I spent in Denver, focusing on HIV behavioral research with the Public Health Institute at Denver Health in collaboration with the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System (NHBS) and the CDC. NHBS is a comprehensive system for bio-behavioral surveillance conducted since 2003 in populations with a high burden of HIV. My proudest achievement in my time with NHBS was becoming a contributing author to the Virtual Recruitment Guidance, which is utilized by 20 sites across the country.”

Moving from island to continental life or vice-versa is a significant change. Many of us have a story behind these life transitions that shape us in new ways. When asked what brought him to Hawaiʻi and how he was enjoying island life so far, Josh offered the following part of his story:

“I have had the privilege of visiting Hawaiʻi many times in my life. In October 2022, I traveled to Honolulu to play in the National Gay Flag Football League (NGFFL) championships, also known as Gay Bowl. Flag football was and still is a large and important part of who I am, and in many ways, it has changed my life. It was on that trip that I fell in love both figuratively and literally… and the rest, as they say, is history. When I was offered the position of SEP Manager, it felt right…like a circle had been closed. I have always felt connected to the waters here, and having a job to come to and a man to love has made the transition to island life a little easier. It hasn’t been without its challenges (I miss my friends and family on the mainland terribly), but every day gets easier, and I love the life I’m living!”

After realizing he was being called to permanently make a home in Hawaiʻi, Josh began an extensive search for positions with like-minded agencies and found himself on HHHRC’s website. “Having been in public health my entire professional career, finding the SEP Manager position with HHHRC was true synchronicity for where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing… Applying was a no brainer!” he explained. “In my very short time here, I have found HHHRC to be a pretty magical place to work, and I’m happy to be a part of the team.”

HHHRC carries the torch of its predecessor organizations, The Chow Project and Life Foundation, who played major roles in the early beginnings of syringe exchange in Hawaiʻi. To this day, HHHRC continues the work of The CHOW Project, which administered Hawaiʻi’s statewide syringe exchange program from its official beginnings in 1993.

“As the SEP Manager, I facilitate the day-to-day operations of our program, ensuring our participants have access to life-saving supplies and education they may need to reduce harm. SEP approaches public health from a harm reduction lens and seeks to lessen the potential adverse impacts of substance use amongst our participants and within our communities. Our program offers both a fixed site location for exchange as well as exchange appointments island-wide. We are proud to serve our participants and communities across four islands in Hawaiʻi: Hawaiʻi Island, Kauaʻi, Maui, and Oʻahu.”

With everything to do in the day-to-day, the paperwork, policy, politics… Josh always comes back to the one thing at the center of it all that keeps his passion alight---that is the heart---the people in the communities he serves. Josh is excited about what his program does in the here and now and where it can go in the future.

“What excites me most about our program is interacting with a population often left behind and forgotten. Regardless of where our participants are in their lives, we have the unique opportunity to make an impact. If I, or our program specifically, can support someone feeling seen, heard, and worthy, we’ve done our job. When I think about the future of our program and where we are headed, I see opportunities for better collaboration amongst our community partners and increased education around harm reduction, not only for our participants but for our communities. SEP is more than just exchanging sterile supplies; it embodies the whole person.”

This attitude of care that Josh carries towards program participants is one inspired by his family.

“My family has been a real inspiration to me on my life’s journey. Through their example, I’ve learned compassion, acceptance, kindness… and so much more. A simple act of kindness can have a tremendous impact on someone’s life. I try to live and show up with aloha in all that I do.”

While much of the work Josh does may be serious and challenging in many ways, he makes sure that his life includes an array of activities to help him keep things light. He also protects his time, being careful to cultivate as healthy of a work/life balance as he can.

“I spent much of my time in Denver with my dog Toast, hiking, enjoying patio brunches with friends, playing softball and flag football. I have an amazing son named Brody, who lives with his two moms (whom I met through flag football) in San Francisco.”

Josh’s top five shows (in no particular order): Schitt’s Creek, Grey’s Anatomy, RuPaul’s Drag Race, The Last of Us, Criminal Minds

Josh’s top five movies (in no particular order): Lean on Me, Labrinth, Crazy Rich Asians, Coco, Scream

Josh also answered the following question from The Proust Questionnaire, popularized by French essayist and novelist Marcel Proust and still used by Vanity Fair magazine:

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would like to have my hair back lol… I had great hair in high school!

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