“Harm Reduction” refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim primarily to reduce the adverse health, social and economic consequences of the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. Harm reduction benefits people who use drugs, their families as and the community.
The harm reduction approach to drugs is based on a strong commitment to public health and human rights.
Harm reduction targets the causes of risks and harms. The identification of specific harms, their causes, and decisions about appropriate interventions requires proper assessment of the problem and the actions needed. The tailoring of harm reduction interventions to address the specific risks and harms must also take into account factors which may render people who use drugs particularly vulnerable, such as age, gender and incarceration.
Evidence based and cost effective
Harm reduction approaches are practical, feasible, effective, safe and cost-effective. Harm reduction has a commitment to basing policy and practice on the strongest evidence available. Most harm reduction approaches are inexpensive, easy to implement and have a high impact on individual and community health. In a world where there will never be sufficient resources, benefit is maximised when low-cost/high-impact interventions are preferred over high-cost/low-impact interventions.
Dignity and compassion
Harm reduction practitioners accept people as they are and avoid being judgemental. People who use drugs are always somebody’s son or daughter, sister or brother or father or mother. This compassion extends to the families of people with drug problems and their communities. Harm reduction practitioners oppose the deliberate stigmatisation of people who use drugs. Describing people using language such as ‘drug abusers’, ‘a scourge’, ‘bingers’, ‘junkies’, ‘misusers’, or a ‘social evil’ perpetuates stereotypes, marginalises and creates barriers to helping people who use drugs. Terminology and language should always convey respect and tolerance.
Challenging policies and practices that maximize harm
Many factors contribute to drug-related risks and harms including the behaviour and choices of individuals, the environment in which they use drugs, and the laws and policies designed to control drug use. Many policies and practices intentionally or unintentionally create and exacerbate risks and harms for drug users. These include: the criminalization of drug use, discrimination, abusive and corrupt policing practices, restrictive and punitive laws and policies, the denial of life-saving medical care and harm reduction services, and social inequities. Harm reduction policies and practice must support individuals in changing their behaviour. But it is also essential to challenge the international and national laws and policies that create risky drug using environments and contribute to drug related harms.
From the Harm Reduction International website: www.ihra.net