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What Is Harm Reduction?

Maybe you’ve heard of harm reduction but aren’t sure what it means, how it works, and what the benefits of approaching recovery from addiction and mental illness through a harm-reduction lens are. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we prioritize your healing in this way to reduce the negative short and long-term consequences of alcohol and drug use. 

What Is Harm Reduction? 

According to The Harm Reduction Coalition (HRC), harm reduction is a set of ideas and practical strategies designed to reduce the negative consequences of drug abuse. It is also a movement of advancing social justice for both belief in and respect for those who use, have used, and are in recovery from substance abuse. The HRC has also created programs that address and help reduce the negative effects of drug use, such as addiction, overdose, incarceration, and the spread of HIV.

While harm reduction is not a treatment for addiction, it is a way of approaching treatment and drug use in general. These types of programs function with the belief that those who use drugs and have been unable to quit using substances do not view substance abuse as the issue. When substance use is viewed through this philosophy, we are able to meet people where they are in their journey through promoting safer use, managed use, or abstinence. 

Core Principles of Harm Reduction 

Harm reduction incorporates a variety of strategies that seek to help reduce drug use and its associated consequences. What these interventions look like will differ from community to community, based on what the needs of the community are and which resources they have access to.

Core principles that inform all interventions harm reduction programs in communities across different settings include: 

  • Accepting that drug abuse is part of our world, and having the goal of minimizing its harmful effects rather than shaming, ignoring, or completely eliminating them. This way of viewing drug abuse not only protects but also restores lives and communities.
  • Seeing the complexities of drug abuse and understanding it runs along a continuum — from severe abuse to total abstinence. It honors that, in some cases, total abstinence may be difficult to achieve, and in the end, has the goal of promoting safety over abstinence.
  • Creating and establishing successful policies and interventions that aim to promote individual and communities quality of life, health, and well-being rather than focusing solely on abstinence as the goal.
  • Calling for non-judgmental and non-coercive administration of services and resources to people to help reduce potential harm.
  • Ensuring that individuals who use drugs and those who are in recovery have a voice in the programs and treatments that are being designed to support their recovery.
  • Affirming that the individual is the primary agent responsible for reducing the negative consequences of their own drug use.
  • Seeking to empower people to share information and support each other to implement harm reduction strategies that meet their current conditions and needs.
  • Recognizing that poverty, class, racism, trauma, discrimination, social isolation, and other social inequalities affect people’s vulnerability to drug abuse and their capacity to effectively deal with drug-related harm.

With these principles in mind, it is important to know that the principles do not minimize or ignore the real harm and danger associated with drug abuse, and instead of meeting individuals and communities where they are, it minimizes the real harm and danger of them rather than making absence and complete elimination the goal.

Types of Harm Reduction 

Harm reduction programs can manifest in a variety of different ways, depending on the needs of the community and individuals are. 

Some examples of what harm reduction looks like in action are: 

  • Overdose prevention through community outreach, practical resources the fit the needs of individuals in the community, and psychoeducation on substance use disorder and harm reduction to reduce overdose deaths.
  • Naloxone distribution programs can educate members of the community about overdose and distribute naloxone kits to those who are likely to overdose or be in the presence of someone who overdoses.
  • Training community members on how to to use naloxone who may be in contact with those who are struggling with addiction.
  • Drug education and testing programs, which focus on distributing fentanyl testing strips, a powerful opioid responsible for a large share of overdose deaths, so it can quickly be known whether or not fentanyl is present in drugs.
  • Providing unbiased and fact-based information on drugs and potential harms so individuals can make informed decisions.
  • Housing first programs, an approach to address homelessness, and provides approaches to combating homelessness that requires individuals to complete a series of programs or seek substance abuse treatment before obtaining housing. Research shows that by providing people with housing first, people are often in a better position to address secondary problems like mental health issues, substance use disorders, and unemployment.
  • Needle exchange programs provide access to clean syringes, an essential component of implementing harm reduction in communities where drug use is an issue. Individuals can also get into contact with the resources they need to begin recovery if that is where they are at in their journey and receive medical or mental health care, housing, drug treatment, and other social services.
  • Safe Injection Facilities (SIFs) are spaces where people can use drugs in a supervised setting.

Benefits of Harm Reduction

Misconceptions of harm reduction are vast, but research supports that it works. It may not lead to abstinence, but it prevents disease and helps reduce overall overdose deaths, criminal activity, violence, and homelessness. It also protects individuals living in communities where drug use is abundant and where resources for support are not vast. As it’s unlikely that drug abuse will be completely eliminated, it’s vital for the well-being of communities that everything possible is done to improve the safety of the complexity of substance abuse. 

Safe recovery begins with a treatment plan that is harm-reduction informed. Laguna Shores Recovery informs all treatment plans with harm-reduction in mind. To learn more, call us today at (866) 229-9923