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Why is Harm Reduction Important?

For practical purposes, harm reduction is any action, technique, or preparation

that reduces the harm one might experience. In our every day lives, we assume

certain risks when we perform tasks or even when we’re having fun. And for each

of these activities, there are already things we do to reduce those risks, thus

reducing any potential harm. For example: commuting. When we get into a car to

drive or ride to work or school, we buckle a seat belt. Another example is sports.

Football players wear pads and helmets, and a less obvious example might be



joint braces or wraps worn for support.

These methods weren’t always in practice. The first cars didn’t even have

seatbelts, and when they were installed they weren’t mandatory right away. If

you search for pictures of early football players, there wasn’t a shoulder pad in

sight! That’s because over time, experience tells us there is a better, safer way to

participate in these activities! Thus, the invention of harm reduction techniques.

The same is true for harm reduction for drug use. People have been using drugs

for all of history. With advancements in medicine and technology, methods for

using them have also evolved. And now, we have realized there is a safer way to

use. This is not enabling. This is understanding and acknowledging that people will

use drugs whether they are safe or not, and that it is safer and healthier for

people who use drugs and for society, to practice harm reduction.

SAHMSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has

outlined the pillars of harm reduction as follows: 1)Harm Reduction is guided by

people who use drugs (PWUD) and with lived experience of drug use 2) Embraces

the inherent value of all people 3) Commits to deep community engagement and

community building 4) Promotes equity, rights, and reparative social justice 5)

Offers lowest barrier access and non-coercive support 6) Focuses on any positive

change, as defined by the individual.

Understanding these pillars brings the realization that we are all in this together.

No amount of legislature or enforcement of existing laws will make drugs

disappear. It is not responsible to ignore the public health and safety indication of

this anymore. Instead of viewing things through the archaic scope of prohibition,

we must understand that people with substance use disorder are in an impossible

scenario. They are experiencing an addiction to substances that are both illegal


and unsafe to use. By definition, addiction is a behavior that you cannot stop or

control despite facing negative consequences. We cannot expect to stop drug use

with punishment. That has historically proven to be not only ineffective, but

antagonistic.

So, by embracing harm reduction, the new gold standard of recovery, not only will

we reduce the public health and safety risks of drug use, but we will also reduce

the shame and stigma around it, thus encouraging people to seek help before

they reach chaotic and destructive use, ultimately saving more lives!


For more information, or if you have any questions, please see SAHMSA’s

framework for harm reduction here: www.samhsa.gov/find-help/harm-

reduction/framework


Sarah Jumper

Harm Reduction Chair

The Trust Partnership

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