Harm Reduction

Most actions that we take in life have the chance to bring harm our way.

  • When you get out of bed, there’s the chance you haven’t got enough rest and that your body’s defences will therefore not be as strong as they might need to be to fight off the germs put on your hand by a handshake from a sick friend.
  • When you get in a car on the freeway, there’s the chance you’ll get in a high-speed crash.
  • When you eat candy, you might get a cavity.

Rather than not getting out of bed, not shaking hands, not driving on the freeway and never eating candy, we could instead try to reduce the harm that might come our way when we do these things.

We could wash our hands regularly, put on a seatbelt in the car, and brush our teeth after sweets.

Will these actions guarantee our safety? No, but they could reduce the amount of risk we are exposing ourselves to.

Just like most drivers will acknowledge that there is an increased risk of injury or death when driving a car – especially at high speed, most drug users will admit that drug use has its risks as well.

So, if you’re going to use drugs, what is the drug use equivalent of a seatbelt? This is the question that harm reduction asks. The answers are useless, however, if they aren’t something that a drug user is willing to try.

If someone won’t wear a seatbelt, just having one will do no good. So harm reduction aims to meet people where they are, help them determine where they would like to be, and then hopefully provides resources, tools and supports that will help them move in that direction.

While the idea of harm reduction can still be somewhat controversial, research has shown it to have positive results.

If a counsellor tries to get someone to do something that they don’t want or don’t believe they are prepared to do, the result is usually that the client doesn’t show up for or even schedule their next appointment.

Research has shown that it’s not so much the content of counselling that is important, but that the client continues to engage. If the client continues to engage, it means that somewhere the client still has hope for a better life.

Harm reduction allows clients to set goals that head in the right direction and that they feel they have a realistic chance of meeting. In this supportive environment, and with each success (big or small), hope can grow.