Connecting People to Services

Harm Reduction Services

“Harm reduction” is a set of strategies to reduce individual and community harm caused by drug use. The focus is on taking incremental steps to reduce harm rather than on
eliminating drug use altogether.

For people who use drugs, harm reduction aims to prevent the
spread of infections (including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other
blood-borne infections); reduce the risk of overdose and other
drug-related fatalities; and decrease the negative effects drug
use may have on individuals and the community.

Individual harm reduction strategies and benefits

People who use drugs can take small steps to reduce harm to
themselves and others:

  • Practice safer sex to prevent the spread of infection
  • Know one’s dealer to establish the source, the strength
    and the toxicity of the drug
  • Reduce the amount of drugs consumed
  • Avoid using drugs by yourself
  • Use a different vein every time to inject
  • Always use a new, sharp rig and fresh water, spoons and cotton.
  • Use needle and syringe exchange programs
  • Dispose of used needles in sharps containers
  • Learn CPR and other first aid strategies
  • Consider an opiate substitute in a medication assisted treatment program
  • Get support for physical and mental health concerns, housing
    or basic necessities, legal problems, employment concerns and
    relationship issues

Individual benefits include:

  • Prevention of infection by HIV, hepatitis C and other bloodborne
    pathogens
  • Fewer overdoses
  • Reduced chaos associated with drug seeking, leading to stability
  • Increased sense of control
  • Options to a person who may not have perceived any choices
  • Increased capacity for self care
  • Opportunities to link with sources of support

Community harm reduction strategies and benefits

The following are some examples of community-level strategies
designed to reduce harm for both individuals and the community.

  • Overdose prevention – Narcan
  • Needle exchange programs – People who inject drugs have access to clean needles and syringes for free. The purpose is to prevent the transmission of blood-borne pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis C, and to help people become healthier.
  • Needle drop-boxes in communities and sharps disposal in pharmacies and local fire departments are other means of reducing the harm created when people discard used needles in public areas.
  • Outreach Services is an effective strategy for reaching hard-to-reach, hidden populations of people who use drugs, and provides the means for enabling them to reduce risky behaviors and increase their protective behaviors.
  • Infectious Disease Counseling and Testing – Free and confidential HIV, Hepatitis C, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis testing and referral to appropriate services and medical treatment

The Benefits to the Community at large include:

  • Lower incidence of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne pathogens
  • Fewer overdose deaths
  • Cost savings
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