Harm Reduction: A Guiding Philosophy of Care
Harm Reduction = Any Positive Change
Harm Reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use and other high-risk behaviors. It incorporates strategies that range from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence. It meets and accepts drug users on their own terms. The Chicago Recovery Alliance defines Harm Reduction as ‘the philosophy and practice of respectfully collaborating with people to assist in any positive change as a person defines it for themselves.’
There are many misnomers regarding Harm Reduction. Practitioners may be accused of being permissive regarding client or personal behavior. They may be accused of being anti-abstinence. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Myths and Facts about Harm Reduction
Myth: Harm reduction is in direct conflict with abstinence.
Fact: Harm Reduction is one strategy on a spectrum of services, with the goal of increasing participation in treatment, building rapport, and reducing the harm of using. This can include reduction or cessation of use.
Myth: Harm Reduction condones use.
Fact: Harm Reduction strategies are interventions that assist in mitigating risk. They neither agree nor disagree with use.
Myth: Harm Reduction takes away time that could have been used for getting treatment.
Fact: Harm Reduction can be utilized in partnership with linkage and engagement in treatment. It can complement treatment strategies in a time of relapse (if the goal is abstinence).
Harm Reduction: More Common than You Might Think
Harm Reduction strategies and practice have a place in all our lives. Wearing a seat belt, going the speed limit and applying sunblock are just a few examples. Safer sex, safer drug use, mental health interventions, housing and activism all fall within this broad philosophy. Those who use substances, have a mental health diagnosis, are involved in sex work, are experiencing unstable housing and are touched by the criminal justice system are some of the populations that are most stigmatized and disregarding by society. We must acknowledge that these folx are most impacted by racialized drug policies, in addition to all other forms of discrimination that they endure daily.
Harm Reduction is a humanistic public health approach. We respond to the disproportionate disease and fatality rates among our vulnerable populations. We keep our folx engaged if they aren’t abstinent from drugs or other high-risk behavior.
Harm Reduction does positive things for society. Using this approach, we challenge stigma. We increase trust with clients and foster engagement. We improve public health with individuals and community-wide.
Why Renaissance Embraces Harm Reduction
Renaissance Social Services utilizes Harm Reduction as a guiding philosophy in our work with individuals and families who are homeless. At the core of this work is a trusting and positive relationship between participants and our clinical case managers. Harm Reduction shapes these relationships, creating better outcomes than would be possible without it.
Ultimately, using a Harm Reduction approach is the most pragmatic form of relationship building, and planting seeds for potential positive changes. During this current Overdose Epidemic, it is more crucial than ever to embrace this approach. Harm Reduction saves lives.