Harm Reduction

1. Principles of Harm Reduction

"Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

"Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence to meet drug users “where they’re at,” addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.

"However, HRC considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice.

"• Accepts, for better and or worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.

"• Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others.

"• Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being–not necessarily cessation of all drug use–as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.

"• Calls 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.
"• Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
"• Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
"• Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
"• Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use."

Principles of Harm Reduction. Harm Reduction Coalition. On the web at https://harmreduction.org/abou..., last accessed Jan. 29, 2020.

2. Harm Reduction Interventions Aim To Reduce The Negative Effects Of Health Behaviors

"Harm reduction refers to interventions aimed at reducing the negative effects of health behaviors without necessarily extinguishing the problematic health behaviors completely or permanently. Though the harm reduction model as we know it rose in prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in response to infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV [1], its roots extend at least as far back as the early 1900s with narcotic maintenance clinics [2, 3]. In the context of substance use, harm reduction disentangles the notion that drug use equals harm and instead identifies the negative consequences of drug use as the target for intervention rather than drug use itself [4]. Harm reduction strategies include syringe exchange programs, safer injection facilities, overdose prevention programs and policies, and opioid substitution treatment. Harm reduction as an approach stands in opposition to the traditional medical model of addiction which labels any illicit substance use as abuse, as well as to the moral model, which labels drug use as wrong and therefore illegal [5]. While most often applied in treatment for illicit substance use, harm reduction is increasingly used in many different settings, with a variety of populations, and in instances where there is a desire to reduce the negative effects of legal/licit substances, such as in tobacco smoking reduction and e-cigarette substitution programs [6, 7], in programs to reduce the harms associated with alcohol [6, 8, 9], in interventions addressing eating disorders or domestic violence [10], or with people who exchange sex for drugs, money, or material goods [11,12,13]. Nevertheless, harm reduction has not been formally incorporated into the daily repertoires of healthcare providers who aim to improve health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, nutrition) among their patients."

Hawk M, Coulter RWS, Egan JE, et al. Harm reduction principles for healthcare settings. Harm Reduct J. 2017;14(1):70. Published 2017 Oct 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-017-0196-4

3. Good Samaritan and Naloxone Access Laws Save Lives

"GAO found that 48 jurisdictions (47 states and D.C.) have enacted both Good Samaritan and Naloxone Access laws. Kansas, Texas and Wyoming do not have a Good Samaritan law for drug overdoses but have a Naloxone Access law. The five U.S. territories do not have either type of law. GAO also found that the laws vary. For example, Good Samaritan laws vary in the types of drug offenses that are exempt from prosecution and whether this immunity takes effect before an individual is arrested or charged, or after these events but before trial.

"GAO reviewed 17 studies that provide potential insights into the effectiveness of Good Samaritan laws in reducing overdose deaths or the factors that may contribute to a law’s effectiveness. GAO found that, despite some limitations, the findings collectively suggest a pattern of lower rates of opioid-related overdose deaths among states that have enacted Good Samaritan laws, both compared to death rates prior to a law’s enactment and death rates in states without such laws. In addition, studies found an increased likelihood of individuals calling 911 if they are aware of the laws. However, findings also suggest that awareness of Good Samaritan laws may vary substantially across jurisdictions among both law enforcement officers and the public, which could affect their willingness to call 911."

"Most States Have Good Samaritan Laws and Research Indicates They May Have Positive Effects," US General Accountability Office, March 2021, GAO-21-248.

4. Successful Operation of an Unsanctioned Supervised Consumption Site in the US

"In total, there were 10,514 injections and 33 opioid-involved overdoses over 5 years, all of which were reversed by naloxone administered by trained staff (Table 1). No person who overdosed was transferred to an outside medical institution, and there were no deaths. The number of overdoses increased over the years of operation, due partially to the number of injections increasing over the same period of time (Fig. S1 in the Supplementary Appendix). The types of drugs used at the site changed over the 5 years of operation, with a steady increase in the proportion of injections involving the combination of opioids and stimulants, from 5% in 2014 to 60% in 2019 (Fig. S2).

"Although this evaluation was limited to one city and one site that is unsanctioned, and therefore the findings cannot be generalized, our results suggest that implementing sanctioned safe consumption sites in the United States could reduce mortality from opioid-involved overdose. Sanctioning sites could allow persons to link to other medical and social services, including treatment for substance use, and facilitate rigorous evaluation of their implementation and effect on reducing problems such as public injection of drugs and improperly discarded syringes."

Kral, Alex H., Lambdin, Barrot H., Wenger, Lynn D., Davidson. Pete J. Evaluation of an Unsanctioned Safe Consumption Site in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine. July 8, 2020. 10.1056/NEJMc2015435.