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What Is Harm Reduction?

HARM REDUCTION is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating a spectrum of practices from safer use, to managed use, through abstinence. Harm reduction strategies meet drug users where they areaddressing conditions of use along with the use itself.

We consider the following principles central to harm reduction practice:
  • ACCEPT, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world, and choose to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • UNDERSTAND drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledge that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.
  • ESTABLISH quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • CALL for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
  • ENSURE that people who use drugs and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  • AFFIRM people who use drugs, themselves, as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seek to empower those who use to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
Check out the “What is Harm Reduction?” video here from the “Reducing Harm & Building Communities: Addressing Drug Use in the South” conference that took place September 8 & 9, 2011 in Durham, NC. Several advocates were interviewed and offered insights into harm reduction and their work.