Harm Reduction Basics for AIDS Service Organizations and Activists

JUNE 2007 • Issue 5

Workshops from the Harm Reduction Coalition

The Harm Reduction Coalition’s Harm Reduction Training Institute makes its training materials available for public use on its website. Here are two trainings that may be useful for service providers and activists:

Overview of Harm Reduction and Sterile Syringe Access: This training by Anna Benyo discusses the basic concepts of harm reduction for service providers and public health and policy workers, and can be adapted for activists and support groups.

Incorporating Overdose Prevention, Recognition, and Response Education into Our Work with IDUs: This training by Emalie Huriaux, MPH, gives practical first aid advice and shows you how to inject naloxone to reverse overdose, which is the leading cause of death for injection drug users. “Since November 2003, over 700 people have received [overdose prevention] training and take-home naloxone,” the PowerPoint presentation tells us. “To date, over 180 of these participants have reversed an overdose using naloxone.”

You can download both presentations at the Harm Reduction Coalition’s Training Materials page.


Overview of Harm Reduction and Sterile Syringe Access

Adapted from a workshop by Anna Benyo, Syringe Access Policy Coordinator, Harm Reduction Coalition

Working Definition of Harm Reduction
• Harm reduction is a set of practical, public health strategies designed to reduce the negative consequences of drug use and promote healthy individuals and communities.

Key Principles of Harm Reduction:
• Designs and promotes public health interventions that minimize the harmful affects of drug use.
• Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted issue that includes behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence.
• Meets people where they are in the course of their drug use.
• Ensures that people who use drugs have a real voice in the creation of programs.
• Affirms that people who use drugs are the primary agents of change.
• Empowers communities to share information and support each other.

Social and Environmental Factors:
• Harm reduction recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities make people more vulnerable to drug-related harm—and effect our capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
• It does not imply that the real dangers associated with licit and illicit drug use, and the ways those issues impact our lives, are any less important than they are.

Harm Reduction Practice Calls For:
• Non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services.
• Programs without many requirements (low-threshold program models)—it should be easy for people to participate.
• Resources for people who use drugs.

Harm Reduction & Sterile Syringe Access:
• Syringe exchange first started in Holland in response to a hepatitis B outbreak in the 1980s.
• The first legal syringe exchange program in the United States started in Tacoma, Washington, in 1988.
• These programs are rooted in activism and advocacy.

Goals of Harm Reduction:
• To prevent disease.
• To offer sterile syringes to prevent HIV and viral hepatitis.
• To reduce mortality.
• To prevent overdose, through training and naloxone distribution.
• To link users to medical care and social services.
• To provide treatment for drug dependence through buprenorphine or methadone maintenance.
• Empower communities and reduce stigma through community organizing and engagement.

Proven Effectiveness:
• Syringe access programs are the most effective, evidence-based HIV prevention tools for people who use drugs.
• Seven federally funded research studies found that syringe exchange programs are a valuable resource.
• In cities across the United States, people who inject drugs have reversed the course of the AIDS epidemic by using sterile syringes and harm reduction practices.

Key points in research:
• Syringe exchange does not encourage drug use.
• Syringe exchange does not increase crime rates.
• Syringe exchange does not increase needlestick injuries in the community.
• Syringe exchange does reduce rates of HIV infection.
• Syringe exchange does reduce risk for hepatitis C infection.
• Syringe exchange programs link participants to drug treatment, medical care, housing, and other social services.

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Filed under Drug users' rights, harm reduction, Solidarity Project, stigma, Uncategorized

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