What Is Harm Reduction?

Harm Reduction is a movement that started in the United Kingdom in the late 70’s/early 80’s. It gained momentum in the United States during the 80’s and 90’s as communities struggled to respond to the AIDS Epidemic. Since then, it has provided life-saving medication and supplies to thousands of people across the country. Today, harm reduction programs are on the front line of addressing the Opioid Epidemic that is impacting every corner of our nation.

Training community members on how to reverse overdoses, incinerating used syringes, connecting vulnerable individuals to Hepatitis C and HIV testing/treatment, referring participants to substance use disorder treatment, and providing case management services to extremely marginalized individuals are just a few of the ways that harm reduction programs make your community safer.

Harm Reduction Is Governed By 8 Foundational Principles

  1. Accepts, for better 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.
  2. Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe use to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Ensures that people who use drugs and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  6. Affirms people who use drugs (PWUD) themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use and seeks to empower PWUD to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
  7. 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.
  8. Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger that can be associated with illicit drug use.