Simply put, harm reduction aims to reduce the negative consequences of problematic drug use. Its primary focus is not on preventing or eliminating drug use. It is an approach that finds its basis in public health and human rights principles. 

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction programs and practices have time and again proven themselves to be not only effective from a patient outcome standpoint but also very cost effective. Examples of harm reduction practices are broad and range from larger campaigns to small everyday efforts that we take for granted. Some examples include:

  • Safe injection sites - aiming to reduce harm by ensuring an individual is not alone when injecting a drug. If an overdose occurs or if the drug is laced with an additive (e.g. fentanyl) unknown to the drug user, trained professionals are there to intervene and lessen the chance of death. 
  • Needle and drug paraphernalia exchange programs - we know that sharing drug paraphernalia (e.g. needles, crack pipes, etc.) is associated with the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. By trying to ensure that people who use drugs have access to clean supplies free of charge without judgement, we hope to avoid new cases of these chronic diseases. 
  • Provision of food, laundry facilities and other basic necessities - harm can also come to society by people who use drugs turning to theft in order to meet their daily needs. Something as simple as providing somewhere for someone to do their family's laundry. 
  • Mental health supports - an individual may not be ready to stop using drugs, but they may be open to counselling or other mental health interventions. 
  • Opioid agonist therapy - Methadone or Suboxone treatment (also referred to as medication-assisted therapy) helps people take control over their addiction and allows them to lead a more 'normal' life. Many studies over time have shown that methadone treatment has direct benefits to both those addicted to opioids, and to communities. These benefits include abstained or reduced use of other drugs, reduced risk of overdose and death, improved health, improved quality of life, reduced transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C, and reduced criminal activity. Suboxone is the first line treatment for opioid use disorders. 

"Harm reduction complements approaches that seek to prevent or reduce the overall level of drug consumption. It is based on the recognition that many people throughout the world continue to use psychoactive drugs despite even the strongest efforts to prevent the initiation or continued use of drugs. Harm reduction accepts that many people who use drugs are unable or unwilling to stop using drugs at any given time. Access to good treatment is important for people with drug problems, but many people with drug problems are unable or unwilling to get treatment." - Harm Reduction International

What is harm reduction?