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Harm Reduction Saves Lives

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

November 17, 2023

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


It makes sense that prevention efforts to reduce opioid misuse will help prevent overdose deaths. The fact is, there are many people who already misuse opioids and don’t intend to stop, despite the risks. There is an evidence-based practice that can help keep these individuals safe – Harm Reduction. As defined by the National Harm Reduction Coalition, harm reduction is “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.” Additionally, the coalition emphasizes that harm reduction is a movement for social justice, focusing on the rights, respect and belief in people who use drugs.



Harm Reduction helps keep people safe in a number of ways. A major focus of harm reduction is the prevention of death due to overdose. Most harm reduction programs make naloxone kits available to the community and provide training on its use. Some programs will also have fentanyl test strips available, which will indicate the presence of fentanyl in a drug supply that is not intended to contain that drug.


 Many harm reduction programs also include syringe exchange services that allow people to safely dispose of their used syringes on site and pick up new syringes free of charge. This service is designed to reduce exposure to blood-borne pathogens, including diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. Harm reduction programs can also test individuals for the presence of these diseases, and refer them to a clinic depending on test results.



Many people who have heard of harm reduction are skeptical of the idea. Some believe that the practice encourages illicit drug use and that it is worsening the problem. Public health researchers have found, however, harm reduction services to be a vital component in the prevention of deaths due to overdose. On the National Harm Reduction Coalition website, Morgan Godvin advocates for these services and speaks highly of her own experiences with harm reduction. When sharing her story, Morgan said that she felt stigmatized as a junkie and “worthless garbage” by society until the Haven (her local harm reduction program) offered services to keep her safe because of and despite her addiction. Interesting enough, Morgan states that harm reduction specialists are in full support of recovery in that they help drug users feel less judged and worthy of life. This support often lifts, motivates and encourages drug users to make a change. The fact is, a big reason these people cope with and continue to use drugs is due to being stigmatized and treated poorly by society. Morgan has her own website where she expands on her experiences and how drugs, overdose, and harm reduction have played defining roles in her life.



If you or someone you know is using drugs, there are local resources available to help reduce risk. Sonoran Prevention Works (SPW) is a non-profit that provides harm reduction services in Arizona. At the beginning, SPW’s main focus was to share the knowledge, tools, and community needed to be safe and healthy for people who use drugs. Today, SPW states that they have expanded their work to “street-based outreach, organizational capacity building and state-wide advocacy work.”


Thank you for reading! It’s a pleasure to continue to share what’s going on in the world of drug use and drug prevention, and we hope to leave you feeling enlightened with each read. We appreciate your time and support!




Sources

1.       National Harm Reduction Coalition (2023). Principles of Harm Reduction. Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/

2.       Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (2023). What is Harm Reduction? Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://publichealth.jhu.edu/2022/what-is-harm-reduction

3.       Sonoran Prevention Works (2023). Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://spwaz.org/

4.       National Harm Reduction  Coalition (2023). “Harm Reduction Saved My Life: by Morgan Godvin. Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://harmreduction.org/blog/morgan-godvin/


Images

1.       Street Works MN (2023). Harm Reduction Saves Lives. Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://www.streetworksmn.org/oopr/

2.       Rural Community Toolbox (2023). Harm Reduction Word Collage. Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://www.ruralcommunitytoolbox.org/expert-help/topic/harm-reduction

3.       Sonoran Prevention Works (2023). SPW Logo. Last viewed November 17, 2023. Available at: https://spwaz.org/

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