The harm reduction model is a set of principles and strategies for addressing substance use and those who engage in it. Essentially, its purpose is to minimize the negative consequences of substance use and to make prevention and recovery services accessible to those individuals.
Why the Harm Reduction Model Is Effective
Research has shown that harm reduction strategies are effective from an individual and public health standpoint. The following are examples of the positive outcomes associated with a harm reduction approach:
- fewer deaths from overdoses
- decreases in infectious disease transmission due to drug use
- reduction of stigma around substance abuse
- empowering those who are interested in seeking treatment to take the first steps toward recovery
What Do Harm Reduction Strategies Look Like?
Harm reduction philosophy takes a realist approach to substance use. Rather than trying to eliminate substance use altogether, harm reduction acknowledges the existence and widespread use of substances. A harm reduction approach revolves around meeting individuals who use substances where they are and acknowledging their need for safety and dignity. In practice, this might look like:
- implementing free syringe exchange programs
- setting up overdose prevention and safe drug use sites
- offering fentanyl tests
- distributing naloxone (a medication that reverses opioid overdose) and providing training on how to use it
- making recovery resources and educational materials readily available to individuals who use substances
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