What is Harm Reduction?
Harm reduction is a way of preventing disease and promoting health that “meets people where they are” rather than making judgments about where they should be in terms of their personal health and lifestyle. Acknowledging the fact that not everyone is ready or able to stop risky or illegal behavior, harm reduction focuses on promoting scientifically proven ways of mitigating health risks associated with drug use and other high risk behaviors, including access to sterile syringes and medications for opioid dependence such as methadone and buprenorphine, and overdose prevention.
With heavy focus on public health and human rights, harm reduction programs provide significant health information and services while respecting individual virtue and liberty. Harm reduction programs focus on reducing the risks and harms associated with unsafe drug use, which is linked to serious adverse health consequences, including HIV transmission, viral hepatitis, and death from overdose.
Harm reduction programs have been shown to lower HIV risk and hepatitis transmission, prevent overdose, and provide a gateway to drug treatment programs for drug users by offering information and assistance in a non-judgmental manner. Harm reduction also protects law enforcement officers from needlestick injuries—accidental pricks to the skin from handling hypodermic needles. By providing safe disposal of injection equipment, harm reduction programs reduce the number of contaminated syringes circulating in a community.
Harm reduction encompasses a broad range of activities and interventions designed to improve the health and quality of life of individuals and communities. These include:
- Needle and syringe exchange programs (SEP’s)
- Confidential counseling and testing for HIV, hepatitis, and other sexually transmitted or bloodborne infections
- Wound Care
- Overdose prevention activities, including Naloxone.
- Provision of primary care and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted or blood-borne infections
- Referrels to drug treatment programs.