People who use drugs are people too. Whether you use drugs or know someone who does, harm reduction is an approach you can use to prevent the adverse effects of drug use and misuse. The stigma against people who use drugs remains strong, and providing support for people at their most vulnerable becomes even more critical.
What Is Harm Reduction Exactly?
Harm reduction exists in our everyday lives. Harm reduction involves the implementation of practical ideas and strategies that aim to minimize the negative consequences of a particular behavior. It can include the simplest things, such as seatbelts, hard hats, and sunscreen. All these protect us from harm in everyday situations, such as driving, working in construction sites, and going out in the sun. It stops people from being injured or dying from something preventable.
You may also apply harm reduction to drug use and misuse. Harm reduction focuses on positive change through a range of health and social services and practices. These apply to users of illicit drugs like marijuana and methamphetamine as well as licit substances such as alcohol and tobacco.
How Is Harm Reduction Different?
The most common approach to drug misuse is the punitive response or placing people in jail. Coincidentally, some people who use drugs commit crimes. However, this does not mean all people who use drugs are criminals.
Harm reduction stands in contrast to incarceration measures. It is grounded in the belief in and respect for the rights of people who use drugs. As such, it involves working with people without judgment, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs altogether before supporting them.
How Can You Practice Harm Reduction?
How does harm reduction proceed in the context of drug and alcohol use? The primary goals of harm reduction are to keep people alive and to encourage positive change in their lives. These approaches are facilitative instead of coercive. On the personal and communal levels, the simplest form of harm reduction is providing people with information on safer-use practices for drugs.
Safer-use practices do not promote drug use. Instead, they advise users on how to reduce the risks associated with drug use, particularly contracting and passing on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Here are some ways to keep safe:
- Choose not to use. If you are not yet dependent, avoid using your drug of choice for more extended periods. Letting your body rest by not using even for a few hours or a few days will help keep you from getting hooked.
- Shoot safer. Pace your dosing according to the strength of the stash. Shooting into the veins in your arms and hands is safer than blindly going for your groin or your neck. Rotate sites and shoot downstream whenever possible. Always use new, clean needles.
- Choose safer ways. Ingesting the drugs by mixing them in food like brownies is safer than smoking. Smoking is safer than shooting.
- Less is more. Decide how much you want to use. Limit yourself to a certain amount. Leave the rest of your money at home. Ask a friend for help to remind you of your use limit. Doing so will keep you accountable and help you avoid overdosing from the drug’s toxic effects.
Harm reduction keeps you safe. Try your best to lessen your use with the help of your support system and a professional.