By: Morgan Magda
What is Harm Reduction?
Harm reduction can be applied to most things in life that can have potential negative outcomes. Basic things like seat-belts, sunscreen, helmets are all examples. Harm reduction does not seek to take away the thing that could potentially cause harm, because it exists and is neither good nor bad. However, it does seek to make the world a safer more livable place. Although harm reduction can be a general statement, when I and most people who are involved in harm reduction work, speak about it we are specifically meaning drug use. Not only is harm reduction a set of beliefs, tools, and strategies it is also a social justice movement built on a belief in, respect for, and the rights of people who use drugs with goals of eliminating stigma and criminalization of drugs and people who use them.
Harm reduction is so many things but to lay out the general sense of what it is here are some examples:
- Resources such as sterile syringes, smoking kits, naloxone, fentanyl testing strips and much more to mitigate the spread of diseases and help prevent overdose
- Supporting legislature that saves lives and centers the rights of people who use drugs like overdose prevention sites, and legalization of substances for safe supply
- Believes that change does not always mean complete abstinence (any positive change is worth celebrating) harm reduction assesses for quality of individual and community life not for complete cessation of drug use
- “Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm that can be associated with illicit drug use” (https://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/)
- Addresses conditions of use along with use itself
To learn more go to harmreduction.org
If you are an herbalist or practitioner seeking to implement a harm reduction framework into your practice, or just someone who wants to be a better community member to people who use drugs here are some tips:
- Before seeing or supporting anyone de-stigmatize your own mind, get uncomfortable with acknowledging why some of this information makes you uncomfortable. This work is emotional but everyone deserves dignity, respect, and the chance to be honest about the choices they make in their life without fear of judgement or shame.
- Do not push or expect recovery, rehab, abstinence, etc. on any person who uses drugs. Do give them the resources if they ask for it.
- Build rapport before making big changes or offering support. Try to remember anyone who has been marginalized and oppressed by society in the past might not trust you right away (rightfully so!)
- Take a trauma-informed care course. Mostly everyone living has experienced trauma, but people who have lived experience with drug-use might have experienced a higher level of trauma than people who do not, it never hurts to be trauma-informed because we never want to cause more harm.
- Make it transparent that you enthusiastically welcome people who actively use drugs, or have used drugs in your practice or in your spaces. Make it known and then actively listen to these people without stigma or judgement, trust their experiences, give them choice, and meet them where they are at. Do not ask them to change to make you more comfortable or to adhere to what your idea of “healing” is.
- Get trained on overdose response. Carry naloxone and test strips on you and in the spaces you work. If you have the means, get extra and give to people who need it. Do not enthusiastically welcome people who actively use drugs into your practice or spaces without knowing how to respond if an overdose happens.