Harm Reduction for Injecting Drug Users

While harm reduction most certainly covers all aspects of risky and illegal behavior, a large part of harm reduction is aimed toward keeping IV drug users safe, since they expose  themselves to the most risk. Communicable diseases run rampant among IV drug using communities, especially those in low income areas who don’t have access to the resources necessary to practice safe injection practices, like clean needles and disposable equipment. Because the topic is so vast and encompasses so many aspects of injection drug use, it would be nearly impossible to list all the practices harm reduction entails. But there are some core principles that are generally accepted by advocates of the movement. The Harm Reduction Coalition has outlined the following to be core principles for the successful practice of harm reduction:

  • 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.

The benefits of introducing harm reduction to every member of the injecting drug using community and our neighborhoods as a whole are vast. They include:

  • The reduced spread of communicable diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis C
  • Reduction of deaths caused by drug overdose or suicide
  • Reduced crimes in our neighborhoods and communities
  • Healthier families who are less affected by a family members addiction
  • The prevention of infection and other health risks caused by using dirty or shared needles
  • Drug and addiction education to those who would not normally receive it
  • Increase of patients admitted to treatment centers and recovery programs
  • Available medical treatment to injection drug users who are in need of a doctors service
  • The prevention of injection drug use in public places and the number of potentially dangerous needles left in our communities

A number of available services are offered to the injection drug using communities to help facilitate these benefits, including:

  • Needle exchange services and access to other sterile supplies and the proper disposal of dirty syringes
  • Free or subsidized recover programs offered to all members of the community
  • Opiate substitution therapies like methadone and suboxone which do not need to be injected
  • Safe injection sites where drug users are supervised by health care professionals to prevent harm and risk of overdose
  • Available Naloxone programs to ensure an overdose prevention kit in every necessary household and community center
  • Peer support groups like AA and NA which provide community outreach services and a support structure for those motivated to improve their quality of life
  • Community education campaigns that create awareness of drug use and the dangers of addiction
  • Other social services like medical and housing assistance to those in need
  • Free testing for HIV and AIDS and available services to those affected

Research has shown that successful harm reduction practices in no way cause the increase of drug use. Nor does it advocate the legalization of drugs. Rather, it accepts that fact that drugs are a part of our world and they ain’t going nowhere. What harm reduction studies have proved is that it does reduce the spread of life threatening diseases like AIDS and Hep C. Harm reduction centers provide a valuable service to those in need where there has been a general lack of concern or empathy for a large percentage of our society. Harm reduction understands and accepts the fact that drug users are a part of our community and chooses to accept them instead of condemn them. It’s a movement that anyone concerned about social services and human liberties should support in any way they can.

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