Harm reduction is a commonly misunderstood practice in the healthcare field. It is also not without controversy, as its approach flies in the face of how society perceives addiction and how it should be dealt with. Resisters to the practice exist in the medical community as much as anywhere else. This is why if you discuss harm reduction, it is best to do so armed with facts about harm reduction and knowledge about how the approach works.
So let’s start there with what exactly harm reduction is. Put broadly, harm reduction is an approach to drug use that prioritizes meeting people where they are, managing their drug use, supporting safer drug use, and addressing the external factors that drive someone’s drug use. Harm reduction does not force abstinence on people, nor does it choose to ignore or condemn drug users. Discuss harm reduction from a more informed perspective by exploring how harm reduction works in the following sections.
How Harm Reduction Works
The harm reduction framework accepts the reality that illicit drug use exists and will continue to exist. Rather than punish or ignore people who use these drugs, harm reduction seeks to support them in accessing the help they need while ensuring their drug use is as safe as possible. The actual tactics used in harm reduction differ based on the area it is implemented and the population it is being used to serve.
A few things that harm reduction services do in general or have been deployed to support those who need them include:
- Connecting individuals to education, therapy, and treatment
- Distributing opioid overdose reversal medications like naloxone
- Lessening the risk for HIV or other infectious diseases through needle exchanges or safe injection sites
- Reduce stigma surrounding drug use and mental health
- Promote hope and healing over judgment and criminalization
Facts About Harm Reduction
One of the most important facts about harm reduction is this: the approach is proven to reduce death, overdose, disease, and substance misuse. It is effective at saving lives and increasing the number of people who seek quality care options to address their substance abuse. The harm reduction approach does not encourage more drug use or lead to an uptick in substance abuse disorders where it is implemented. That is a pernicious myth that harm reduction somehow leads to more drug use. The facts about harm reduction are that it clearly leads to the opposite based on the lived experiences of those implementing the harm reduction framework in their localities.
Another thing to keep in mind about how harm reduction works is that it is most effective when harm reduction services are matched with harm reduction infrastructure. Either on its own can definitely do some good, but both together provide the sort of comprehensive structure necessary to fully address substance abuse.
But what do those terms mean? Harm reduction services refer to overdose reversal training and education, vaccination or treatment referrals, safe injection sites, needle exchange programs, and easy access to healthcare for people who use drugs. Meanwhile, harm reduction infrastructure is the physical component that undergirds these services and provides a safer atmosphere for people. This includes things like fentanyl test strips, safer sex kits, naloxone kits, medication lock boxes, and sharps disposal boxes.
Reducing Harm with Insight Recovery Centers
When you discuss harm reduction, especially if it is with someone who is skeptical of the approach, lead with compassion. Likely, they desire what you desire: lives saved and a healthier community for us all to live in. Addiction and drug use continue to carry so much stigma in our society.
You may be unable to overcome someone’s prejudices or misconceptions in one conversation. But you can start opening their eyes to the benefits of harm reduction by simply explaining what it is and what it provides. If nothing else, lean into this fact about harm reduction: it saves lives.
Learn more about the harm reduction framework and how it is being applied in communities across the country when you call 703.592.6946.