What is Harm Reduction Therapy?
Harm Reduction is a somewhat controversial topic that you may or may not have heard of. At its core, harm reduction treatment seeks to be a form of substance abuse treatment that does not replace traditional programs, but rather, tries to quite literally reduce harm or fatality associated with addiction. Advocates of Harm Reduction, and those who are on the front lines of these programs understand the men and women they serve will need treatment options above and beyond what they can offer.
So what exactly does a harm reduction center do for the communities that they serve? Among other things, these centers allow users to safely and cleanly use the substances to which they are addicted – usually injection drugs, though that is not all. For users who are struggling with heroin and other injection based substances, these centers provide clean syringes and dispose of them safely, to reduce the risk of overdose, needle sharing or the spread of HIV and other communicable diseases.
Harm Reduction Facts
There is plenty of negative mind space surrounding the concept of Harm Reduction. At Royal Life Centers, we choose to take a neutral stance on this regard. While we see the benefits of reducing the risk of overdose or spread of disease, we also recognize that this is a form of enabling. We leave the final decision of whether this is a helpful or dangerous program up to you, our readers. Nevertheless, it is our duty to educate and provide you with all of the tools you need to better understand the world that you or someone you love may be in. To that end, here are some facts about Harm Reduction.
- Chooses to accept that drug use exists, but has made the choice to help minimize it’s damage instead of ignore or condemn those involved
- Seeks to be completely non-judgmental to anyone that they help
- Understands that some ways of dealing with substance abuse are safer than others
- Helps to elevate the voice of men and women who routinely use drugs, to help build programs and treatments for them
- Does not ignore the fact that substance abuse is a disease that can cause tragic physical and emotional harm to users and their loved ones
The Harm Reduction Coalition has more information on their facts and principles, as well as resources and the ability to get involved, should you feel passionate about these programs. As we move on, we will take a closer look into the specifics of this form of treatment.
What Happens at a Harm Reduction Facility?
Harm Reduction therapy does not discriminate against the types of users that they allow to enter. In fact, there is a wide variety of people who find themselves at Harm Reduction facilities, not just those who are abusing illegal substances. On top of helping with drug use, these treatment facilities also hand out contraceptives and educate men and women on safe and clean sex. They encourage people with tendencies toward alcohol use to drink or get through their drunken state the facility to prevent drunk driving, crime or other dangers commonly associated with Alcohol Use Disorder.
Harm Reduction Clinics recognize that while there are many fantastic treatment centers in the communities that they serve, those centers may only have a limited number of beds available. To help alleviate the burden, substance abusers who wish to start attempting abstinence may also attend one of these locations to safely go through their withdrawal period, without the risk of bodily injury or death.
Harm Reduction Targeted at Heroin and Stimulants
Two of the largest issues that are tackled by Harm Reduction treatment include the unsafe or unclean usage of Heroin and stimulant drugs. Many users of stimulants exhibit poor bodily and dental hygiene, or engage in unsafe sexual encounters. Harm reducers go to the source and provide water, healthy snacks and hygiene products, but also condoms and other forms of contraceptive. The goal for these users is to reduce dental disease, improve health and wellness and reduce the risk of STDs.
For Heroin users, there are several options available that Harm Reduction can assist with. The first is referred to as safe injection sites. The idea here is that these facilities provide a safe, clean environment for users who are addicted to heroin to come in and use their substances without the risk of overdose or bloodborne diseases. This also allows for them to be monitored and cared for, so that they can’t cause harm to themselves or others. In providing this safe haven, the facility does not condone or condemn the use of heroin. Rather, they make it their mission to ensure that the person using is safe because they would’ve used whether the facility was there or not.
Most Harm Reduction centers also offer free needle exchange programs. The purpose of needle exchange is to collect and safely dispose of dirty, used needles and distribute clean ones. In doing so, they reduce the risk of HIV and other bloodborne diseases from being spread through shared needles.
Some clinics also practice opioid treatment programs and use medication-assisted treatments to help users safely lower opioid use. They also offer counseling, and refer their guests out to full on substance abuse treatment centers.
Pros and Cons
Now that we better understand the concept of Harm Reduction, what are the pros and cons? How can we break it down to help you formulate your own opinion on the matter? Here are some of the ones we found through our research:
- Provides medical supervision while using.
- Can test drugs to ensure they are not laced or cut with harmful chemicals.
- Provides clean and sterile equipment for use.
- In some cases, may provide hepatitis vaccine to heroin users.
- Reduces risk bodily harm or death.
- Harm Reduction is NOT a substitute for treatment.
- Many men and women who only use Harm Reduction methods will relapse.
- Harm Reduction does not provide group or individual therapy to treat underlying causes.
- Many consider safe injection or needle distribution to be a form of enabling.
As stated, there is hot debate surrounding the topic of Harm Reduction. In fact, while it is more common in Canada and the UK, many states do not allow it here. The common conception is that it is an enabling practice, or that needle distribution increases use or access to needles on the street. The champions of Harm Reduction fight against these claims, stating that there is no significant evidence to prove that their services have done anything outside of reducing overall risk of overdose or the spread of HIV and hepatitis.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel that a service such as Harm Reduction could be beneficial in helping men and women stay safe during a time when they may not have other options available to them? Or, is it not safe to condone the use at all? We want to hear you have to say.
We believe that the best and safest way to begin a life of sobriety and stay that way is with a full continuum of substance abuse treatment. If you or someone you love is using drugs or abusing alcohol and is in need of care, please reach out to us at (877)-RECOVERY or 877-732-6837. Our team of addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.