AIDS United remembers Mark Kinzly, longtime advocate for harm reduction

“The godfather of harm reduction.”

“The man, the myth, the legend.”

“Teacher, researcher, worker and activist extraordinaire.”

They’re all phrases we’ve seen on social media to honor Mark Kinzly in the days since the harm reduction community was rocked with the news of his passing. They also don’t even come close to encompassing the true impact of his decades of advocacy for people who use drugs. 

Among many chapters in his life, Kinzly was more recently a founding member of the Texas Harm Reduction Alliance and the Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative. It’s nearly impossible to adequately distill his 30-year career and impact on harm reduction in the U.S. and beyond, from policy and advocacy, to implementing syringe services, pioneering harm reduction for people who use crack, providing widespread mentorship and much more. 

“Mark Kinzley was essentially my grand-mentor — one of my teachers’ teachers — and I was lucky enough to have learned harm reduction through that lineage,” said Christine Rodriguez, AIDS United senior program manager. “His reputation preceded him, of course, and it would be years before I stopped being surprised that he knew who I was or seemed interested in what I had to say. I received relentless kindness from him, and he really made me feel seen — something I know he offered to everyone he served in this work. The chance to be seen. Maybe for the first time in a long time. I’m immensely grateful to have shared space even at the margins of Mark’s life, and my heart is with his nearest and dearest. When it feels like everyone’s moved on, I’ll always be here to hear your stories.”

Kinzly showed us what was possible through compassion and connection. 

And as someone who used drugs, he demanded the respect of people who use drugs in this work, so often denied despite drug users’ leadership in creating it in the first place. 

“Working with syringe exchange changed my life,” said Kinzly in an interview in 2015. “I never saw so much hope in people as I did when I handed them a clean needle. When you are wrapped up in the hustle [of drug culture], it can be really ugly. Sometimes the conversations at the syringe exchange were the only kindness that people were shown in the course of a day. Seeing that changed my spirit. Something got touched deep inside me that hadn’t been touched since my brother was killed.”

Kinzly changed countless lives through his decades of work in harm reduction and public health. He helped so many realize the power of meeting people where they’re at, whatever that looks like. He advocated fiercely for those who others had discarded. He ensured that life-saving tools like naloxone got into the hands of whoever needed it.

We at AIDS United are so grateful for Kinzly’s impact on our work and communities. Our work through the Syringe Access Fund, now the Harm Reduction Futures Fund, was also touched by his insight and compassion. 

We send our deepest condolences to all who knew him — and we know, without a shadow of a doubt, that his impact will continue to endure. 

We know many in our grantee networks and partners across the harm reduction community knew and loved Mark. If you’d like to share a memory or story about him with us to be featured on our website, please reach out to