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Effective harm reduction programs help people who use drugs move toward health

Dec 14, 2020

Some of the hardest issues our society faces—racism, stigma, marginalization and criminalization—are what often lead people to put themselves in harm's way by using drugs, noted Emma Roberts, Senior Director of National Capacity Building for the National Harm Reduction Coalition, during a Dec. 8 webinar hosted by Interact for Health.

More than 50 people attended the webinar to learn more about the evidence-based interventions and practices involved in harm reduction, and help people who use drugs move toward better health.   

Harm reduction tactics include distribution of naloxone and fentanyl test strips, medication-assisted treatment, supervised consumption services and connections to substance abuse treatment providers. Many harm reduction services are available via syringe services programs. More than 330 operate in the U.S., including seven programs in Greater Cincinnati.  

"Harm reduction gives you more tools in your toolbox," Roberts said. "Not to work with some people some of the time, but all people all of the time." 

Roberts said that stigma is a major barrier faced by people seeking harm reduction services. People who use drugs often internalize the stigma of addiction, she said, and as a result are more likely to limit their own opportunities. Harm reduction programs that create a space where people can talk honestly about their drug use and provide a range of options for support are better equipped to overcome this type of stigma. 

Roberts said that harm reduction programs that address the following principles can serve their participants more effectively: 

  • Health and dignity. 
  • Patient-centered services. 
  • Participant involvement. 
  • Participant autonomy. 
  • Sociocultural factors. 
  • Pragmatism and realism.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the adaptability of harm reduction programs, Roberts said. When other services shut down, harm reduction practitioners adapted their models to continue to provide services. In some areas, walk-up windows were set up, as were curbside pickup and home delivery. 

If you're interested in learning more about harm reduction, view Roberts' slide presentation or a video of the full webinar. You can also learn how Interact for Health is investing in harm reduction to address the opioid epidemic

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