According to harmreduction.org: “Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in and respect for the rights of people who use drugs.”
I remember learning this philosophy and what a difference it made in therapeutic work when transitioning from absolutes of thinking you are either clean or dirty to effective movement toward a healthier lifestyle. And even in defining this philosophy, there is no specific way to implement harm reduction. The Harm Reduction Coalition describes the principles important to the practice of harm reduction as:
- Accepting that drug use is a part of our world and working toward reducing the harmful effects instead of overlooking or condemning people who use drugs.
- Understanding that drug use is complex and that some ways of using drugs are safer than others.
- Quality of life, not necessarily discontinuing drug use is the goal of successful intervention.
- A non-judgmental approach (along with compassion and curiosity) is used when offering treatment/services to assist with the goal of reducing of harm.
- Those who use drugs or who have a history of use continually have a voice in creating programs and policy designed to help them (“Nothing about us without us”).
- Drug users have ultimate authority over reducing harm to themselves. Such persons should be empowered to inform one another and support one another in using strategies to meet their own goals of use.
- Social inequalities affect a user’s ability to effectively deal with drug-related harm.
Harm Reduction is one of several models used in many but not all KCMH services (e.g. court-mandated programs requiring abstinence). Coming along side someone who has given you permission to assist them on their journey to become healthier is a place of honor I hope we all never forget.