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What is Harm Reduction?

A close-up view of a mother and her adult son sitting on a couch and holding hands
Harm reduction is about buying your loved one the time they need to get better.

Consider these two facts: There is no way to use heroin that is 100 percent safe and we will never have a drug-free society.

That’s where the concept of harm reduction comes in. You may not be able to convince your loved one to go to rehab—yet—but you may be able to start a discussion about ways of staying safer.

You’re not giving up on the idea of your loved one getting clean; you’re just buying time.

Heroin Addiction and Harm Reduction

The first priority of harm reduction has always been giving users access to clean needles, eliminating exposure to HIV, Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and tuberculosis.

But, now, many cities are going a step further and considering opening safe injection sites. In fact, a total of 63 cities in nine different countries have opened such sites. The practice began three decades ago in Switzerland and took root in the United States when Seattle approved the nation’s first safe injection sites this January. (They have not opened yet, largely because of NIMBY resistance, according to The Seattle Times.)

The sites—called “fix rooms” in Europe—offer clean needles, medical supervision and quick access to drugs that reverse the effects of an overdose. They also offer an opportunity for users to find out about treatment options, which is the ultimate goal.

Harm Reduction in Denver

About 20 people died of a drug overdose alone in a park, a stairwell or in a public bathroom in Denver, according to published reports.

Now, there’s a movement underway to bring safe injection sites to the area. It’s spearheaded by the Denver non-profit Harm Reduction Action Center.

The non-profit’s mission is still to get people off drugs. But they believe harm reduction can ultimately achieve that goal for more people. “Harm Reduction is not the opposite of recovery,” is one of the group’s stated beliefs. “It is just the more patient and sustainable route.”

Other Harm Reduction Techniques

While safe injection sites are being debated in Denver (and in a handful of other U.S. cities), it’s hard to say whether the concept will ever take hold in the United States—or what the effect will be if it does.

In the meantime, there are other important steps users can take (in addition to using clean needles, which should be the first priority).

  • Never use alone. If you or someone you’re with shows signs of an overdose, call 911 immediately.
  • Use low doses infrequently and never use two days in a row.
  • Consider treatment options like Suboxone, which blocks opiate receptors.
  • Choose smoking or snorting over injecting heroin. All methods of using heroin have risks, but the main benefit of smoking or snorting is that you can stop once you feel high. Once you inject a drug, it’s too late.
  • Carry Narcan. Narcan is a brand name for naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. It is now available to buy over-the-counter at Walgreens and CVS.

Hope—and Freedom—at The Raleigh House

Harm Reduction is a stop-gap, not a solution. At the Raleigh House, we believe that everyone has the right—and the ability—to lead a good life without drugs. That begins by assigning each person who walks through our doors a master’s level therapist to guide them on their recovery journey. Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the heroin addiction treatment program at The Raleigh House.

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