Harm Reduction: Literally Reducing Harm to People Who Use Drugs and Society as a Whole

By Sydney Duffy

Harm Reduction: Literally Reducing Harm to People Who Use Drugs and Society as a Whole

 Harm reduction is defined by the National Harm Reduction Coalition as both “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use” and “a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.” It is debated heavily by individuals who ask the question, is it enabling? Harm reduction is a topic that has been gaining recognition throughout the past couple years. The whole basis of harm reduction is that addicts who are unable or not ready to accept the help they need to become sober are given a safe place to do drugs. By giving them access to a secure environment, they are able to stay safe until they come to the realization on their own that they want help. When they come to this realization, they are then able to have a better chance than if they were forced or rushed into treatment involuntarily. In order for an addict to get sober, they must want to seek treatment themselves. 

Harm reduction can have an unimaginable impact on an addict's life. One of the most prominent efforts of harm reduction are syringe distributions and exchanges, which help slow down and stop the spread of Hepatitis and HIV, two very common and dangerous risks for syringe users. In other countries, in addition to syringe distribution and exchange programs, there are Supervised Injection Facilities, or SIFs. In comparison, the United States has not been as proactive in terms of implementing harm reduction, despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  There are some syringe exchange programs across the country, but no Supervised Injection Facilities. The biggest roadblock is legislation. In the United States, many are in agreeance with the concept of harm reduction, but generating support from policy makers and government officials has proven to be the major setback in implementing SIFs.


Further, I strongly believe that harm reduction needs to become more prominent in politics. As with most things, money is a central component of the issue. Globally, an insane amount of money is spent on drug control and management. If as a global community some of this money was allocated to harm reduction, it could make a tremendous  difference in real lives. Harm Reduction International reports that around $100 billion is spent on drug control globally. Harm reduction is separately allocated $160 million. Why is there more focus on getting people in trouble than caring for them? Harm Reduction International also did a study that shows that if 7.5% of the money that is currently allocated to drug control got redirected to harm reduction in 2020, within a decade it would decrease the number of new HIV infections from drug use by 94%. The allocation of more money toward harm reduction, in contrast to drug control, will elevate the quality of life of many users of drugs.  

As a young adult in the United States, it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that the current global war on drugs is not going away. Within my own life, I have become acutely aware of the enduring effects of drug abuse, not only on the addict themselves, but also on their family and friends.The devastating reality is that unless we, as a global community, have these hard conversations and discussions subtracting all judgment, nothing is going to change. By educating one another on issues of this caliber we are creating a space  for change to happen. We as human beings have an obligation to be having these hard conversations to save lives.​ 

Sydney is a first year at Davidson College and an intended environmental studies major.