Harm Reduction


“Harm Reduction” is a term that, while unfamiliar to many people, describes a concept that many people actually practice in their own lives and ascribe to as a philosophy about how to solve problems.

Harm Reduction describes a set of practical strategies that seek to reduce the harms associated with certain risky behaviours – usually having to do with drug and alcohol use and sexual practices – to the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

Rather than seeking simple solutions based on punishment, moral arguments, or vilification of those who engage in risky practices, Harm Reduction looks at the complex issue of problematic substance use and its associated risks as a public health issue that must be addressed holistically, with compassion, and with reality-based and scientifically-proven measures that increase peoples’ chances of success, and keep them healthy while they are on the path to adopting behavioural change and overcoming substance abuse. Harm reduction also recognises the importance of seeking solutions that preserve the health and well-being of families and communities, that uphold human rights, and that preserve the human dignity of people dealing with addiction.

Harm reduction philosophy and practice diverges from drug policies that emphasise punitive measures such as incarceration for non-violent drug offenders; that focus efforts and resources on military source control intervention in other countries; and that fail to provide scientifically-proven and fiscally responsible solutions such as treatment, education, information, and prevention to drug users.

Harm reduction supports policies and practices that measure success not on simply achieving a reduction in rates of drug use, but that reduce rates of death, disease, crime and suffering; and that seek to address underlying causes of substance abuse.

The following are features of harm reduction:

Pragmatism: Harm reduction accepts that some use of psycho-active substances is inevitable, and that some level of substance use is expected in a society.

Humane Values: No moralistic judgement is made, either to condemn or to support use of substances, regardless of level of use or mode of intake. The dignity and rights of the person who uses alcohol and other drugs are respected.

Focus on Harms: The extent of a person’s substance use is of secondary importance to the harms resulting from that use.

Hierarchy of Goals: Most harm reduction programs have a hierarchy of goals; the most pressing needs are addressed first.

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