Harm Reduction


Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use. This paradigm is grounded in the belief in and respect for the rights of people who use drugs.


Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies that includes: safe use, managed use, abstinence, meeting people who use drugs “where they’re at”, and addressing conditions of use along with the use itself. Because harm reduction demand that interventions and policies designed to serve people who use drugs reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction. However, below are some of the principles central to harm reduction practice.


Accepts, for better 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.


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


Ensures 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


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


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


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


Affirms people who use drugs (PWUD) themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use and seeks to empower PWUD to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use


Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger that can be associated with illicit drug use