Understanding Harm Reduction

I think we should clear up just what ‘harm reduction’ really is, as put out by The Harm Reduction Coalition. Is it time to move forward with new thinking and new ways of dealing with drug abuse? If there is more than one way to fold a towel, might there be more than just 1 road to recovery?

Principles of Harm Reductionharm reduction11

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence 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 of or formula for implementing harm reduction.

However, HRC considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice.

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.

Your thoughts on this matter are welcome.

September 24, 2016


2 responses to “Understanding Harm Reduction”

  1. J A says:

    What are your thoughts on this harm reduction concept and dr. William white seminal article on building recovery capital so many of the patients are unwilling to give up some of their substances we appreciate your writings were Old Timers with Decades of experience and various levels of helping and administration

    • Sounds like an extended version of Person Centered philosophy to me. I agree with not being judgmental and meeting people where they are and not imposing on to them unreasonable expectations of progress according to personal philosophical views or ideologies. Addiction treatment is a complicated process because the condition itself is individual in its scope and sequence as the person progresses through the phases of early, intermediate and late stages of addiction. I agree with HRC and would like to become involved in some scientific vigor to continue to develop its principles.

      Warren K. Christian MS, CAC-AD, CCDC

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