Harm reduction is an approach that aims to minimize the risks associated with behaviors people are unable or unwilling to stop engaging in.
Harm reduction includes a range of health, social services, and safe practices to apply to substance use.
Harm Reduction is...
Harm reduction is an approach that aims to minimize the risks associated with behaviors people are unable or unwilling to stop engaging in. A common example of harm reduction in everyday life is the use of a seatbelt while riding or driving in a car. People who use drugs (PWUD) can use harm reduction practices to decrease the risks drugs pose to their lives and their bodies. Something as simple as isopropyl alcohol pad can save a life by preventing infections associated with injection drug use.
Principles of Harm Reduction¹
- 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
- 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
- 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 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
- 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 that 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 that can be associated with illicit drug use
Goals of Harm Reduction
Harm reduction is grounded in the recognition that many people throughout the world are unable or unwilling to stop using illicit drugs.²
Keeping people who use drugs alive and protecting their health are the most urgent priorities. Harm reduction approaches are facilitative rather than coercive, and aim to reinforce positive change in a person’s life, no matter how small or incremental that change may be. Recognising that only a small percentage of people who use drugs experience problematic use, harm reduction may also help people maximise any potential benefits that they gain from using drugs.
Harm reduction seeks to improve drug laws, policies and law enforcement practices, so that they are not detrimental to the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs and their communities. Many policies around the world create and exacerbate the potential risk and harms of drug use. These include: the criminalisation of people who use drugs; abusive and corrupt policing practices; the denial of life-saving medical care and harm reduction services; restrictions on possession of injecting paraphernalia; forced urine testing and detention in the name of rehabilitation; and, discrimination based on drug use, class, race, and gender. Harm reduction challenges international and national laws, and policies that contribute to drug-related harms.
Access to high-quality, evidence-based prevention, care, and treatment programs, including approaches that involve cessation of drug use, is important for some people. Entry into treatment should be on the
terms of the individual and must never be forced. Many people who use drugs do not need treatment, and those experiencing problems associated with drug use may be unwilling or unable to enter abstinence-only treatment for myriad reasons. While abstinence from drug use may be the goal for some people who use drugs this is an individual choice and should not be imposed, or regarded as the only option.
 Stigmatising language includes, but is not limited to, referring to people who use drugs as ‘drug abusers,’ ‘addicts,’ ‘a scourge,’ ‘junkies,’ or a ‘social evil.’
 Harm reduction is well-evidenced to prevent diseases such as HIV, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis, among others.
Helpful Links & Resources
Syringe Exchange Hours and Locations in Marion County
Damien Center Harm Reduction Room
26 N. Arsenal Ave,
Indianapolis, IN 46201
Eskenazi West Parking Lot
38th and Moller
In Damien Center’s Black and White Mobile Unit
Thursdays 12:00pm- 4:00pm
Marion County’s Cottage Corner Building
1434 Shelby Street
Tuesdays 12:30pm - 4:30pm
Thursdays 9:30am - 4:30pm
Brookside Church Parking Lot
10th and Olney
In Marion County’s White Mobile Unit
Fridays 11:00am- 3:00pm