What is harm reduction?
While there is no universally accepted definition of harm reduction, I will attempt to provide some clarity here.
Harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and enforceable laws.
Harm reduction is an approach focusing on justice and human rights - it promotes positive change and working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using as a condition of any supports offered.
Harm reduction models encompass a range of health and social services and practices that apply to illicit and licit drugs. These include, but are not limited to, drug consumption rooms, needle and syringe programs, non-abstinence-based housing and employment initiatives, drug testing, overdose prevention, psycho-social support, and the sharing of information on safer drug use. Approaches such as these are cost-effective, evidence-based and have a clearly demonstrated positive impact on individual and community health.
Harm reduction is firmly grounded in principles which aim to protect human rights and improve public health. Treating people who use drugs—along with their families and communities—with compassion and dignity is integral of a harm reduction model. Using drugs does not mean people are no longer entitled their basic human rights - they remain entitled to the right to life, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to social services, to privacy, to freedom from arbitrary incarceration and to freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.
As it relates to the work done at the Turning Point Center the goals of harm reduction have keeping people who use drugs alive and protecting their health as the most urgent priorities. Harm reduction approaches are supporting rather than coercing and seek to reinforce positive change in an individual’s life, no matter how small the changes may be. Recognizing that only a small percentage of people who use drugs experience problems related to their use, harm reduction may also help people maximize any potential benefits that they gain from using drugs.
Additionally, The Turning Point Center helps to facilitate access to high quality, evidence-based prevention, care, and treatment programs, including approaches that involve cessation of drug use. Entry into treatment should be on the terms of the individual and must never be forced. Many people who use drugs do not need treatment, and those experiencing problems associated with drug use may be unwilling or unable to enter abstinence-only treatment for myriad reasons. While abstinence from drug use may be the goal for some people who use drugs, this is an individual choice and should not be imposed or presented as the only option.
Harm reduction underscores the work being done at the Turning Point Center of Rutland and many of its partner agencies who have recognized the reality of the lives of those affected. It is our goal to assist people in the ways that are most meaningful to them and in the most supportive and accepting ways that we are able.