What Harm Reduction Is and Stands For
According to Harm Reduction International, and the Harm Reduction Coalition, Harm Reduction is a set of policies, programs, and practices that aim to minimize the negative and harmful health, social, and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. Harm Reduction Principles is also built on the belief in and respect for the rights of people who use drugs.
The principles behind the technique is not to eliminate substance abuse for users, but to diminish the life-altering and possibly life-threatening effects. Acknowledging that people do and will continue to participate in dangerous drug use, harm reduction doesn’t condone drug abuse, though, it accepts those who unwilling to seek treatment by providing resources to reduce the spread of diseases, overdose death rates, and preventable causes for those who continue to use.
There are also those who criticize the effectiveness of harm reduction. Many critics believe that harm reduction programs that offer Suboxone or buprenorphine can be addictive in themselves and keep a person dependent even longer. Additionally, there are those who believe that needle exchange programs circulate dirty needles onto the street if they’re not controlled. However there have been multiple studies that negate these facts.
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The Principles of Harm Reduction
Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from guide safer drug use and managed drug use to meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition or formula for implementing harm reduction. However, the basic principles integral to harm reduction are:
- Accepts, for better and or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
- Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
- Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
- Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
- Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
- Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
- Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination, and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
- Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.”
Goals of Harm Reduction
As an important concept that can bridge the gap from continued use to recovery, harm reduction has a number of goals that have proven successful in its methods.
Prevent Death and Encourage Users to Change Their Lives – According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 70,000 people died from an opioid overdose in 2017. Keeping people who use alive is crucial. While harm reduction approaches can be facilitative rather than coercive, they aim to bridge the gap between using and the wide amount of resources that are available.
Reduce the harm of drug laws and policy – Harm reduction techniques seek to be an advocate for users and improve laws, polices and law enforcement practices so that, ultimately, they’re not detrimental to those who do use.
Offer alternatives – It’s essential that those who are using, find resources to stop. Access to prevention, treatment programs, are important. There should be alternatives and multiple options to help those who’ve experienced problems other than treatment. Harm reduction practices help facilitate this connection.
What This Means As A Whole
In a nutshell, these principles are set forth to ensure that the rights of the drug users as human beings are upheld, while doing what we can from our end, in a number of areas, to help get rid of the negative consequences of drug use. This is especially important in the scope of substance abuse as the opioid crisis continues on. While harm reduction ultimately aims to connect people to the health system, it can alternatively empower people to improve the quality of their lives.
Components of Person-to-Person Harm Reduction
There are so many ways that harm reduction is put to use in the community. Following are some of them:
- Education and information on HIV, Hep C, Safe Using Practices, Effects of Use
- Safe Wound Care
- Detox and Treatment Information
- Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- Naloxone/Overdose Information and Supplies
- Supply Exchange
- Substance Specific Education
- Situation Specific Resources
- In Some Places, Safe Using Stations
- Counseling and testing for HIV/Hep C
- Referrals and Resources for Positive Tests
Is Harm Reduction Effective?
Multiple studies and measures have been done to find the effectiveness of harm reduction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse study that examined the effectiveness of buprenorphine and naloxone in people who were addicted to opioids found that half were abstinent 18 months after they started MAT. After 3.5 years, the number of people who were abstinent rose to 61% and less than 10% met the criteria for opioid use disorder.
Additionally, several small studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Managed Alcohol Programs (MAPS). For example, one study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that residents of a MAP had a decrease in interactions with the police and emergency services. Another study in the Harm Reduction Journal showed that people in MAPs had fewer admissions to hospitals, detox treatments, and arrests.
Resources For Accessing Harm Reduction Services
Here at Sober Nation, there are so many resources that you can view on our resources page.
Each geographical area has an automated phone system that connects users to a wide variety of resources. Call 211 to find them in your area.