Many people with addictions either refuse to admit they have a problem or simply aren’t interested in getting sober. Although they may never agree to enter a treatment program or go to 12-step meetings, there are still some alternatives that can at least reduce their substance use or make it a little safer. Harm reduction refers to the idea that even if someone continues to abuse drugs or alcohol, their family, friends, or community can still provide some support.
One example of harm reduction is a needle-exchange program for people who inject their drugs. This would allow people to take in old needles and exchange them for new, clean ones, which is important because needle sharing can lead to the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. These exchange programs also frequently offer to counsel the addict, safer-sex education, HIV testing, condoms, and alcohol swabs.
Another harm reduction idea is providing a safe place for people to inject drugs. They would be provided with sterile equipment and a clean environment, rather than shooting up in unsanitary conditions and risking disease.
Harm reduction can also involve medication. For example, methadone and can be taken in place of heroin or opioids. Methadone is itself an opioid that can be used to relieve pain, but it also blocks the high from drugs like heroin and oxycodone while reducing withdrawal symptoms. It can be addictive and is not intended to be used forever, but it is at the very least a safer alternative to other drugs. Similarly, buprenorphine (although meant to be used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan) has fewer risks of misuse, dependency, and side effects. One study found that “Harm-reduction-based methadone treatment, in which the use of illicit drugs is tolerated, is strongly related to decreased mortality from natural causes and from overdoses.”
The overarching principles of harm reduction involve the idea that drug use is a fact of life that will never go away, and instead of ignoring addicts or punishing them, we should help minimize the harmful effects on both the user and the community. It also emphasizing non-judgmental, non-coercive help. According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, some of the key ideas are:
- Empowering drug users to share information and support each other
- Recognizing that poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people’s vulnerability to and ability to deal with drug-related harm
- Ensuring that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them
- Establishing that quality of individual and community life and well-being and not necessarily cessation of all drug use should be the criteria for successful interventions and policies
If you or a loved one need help to quit drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504.