Harm reduction is an approach to treating addiction that focuses on keeping addicts safe and minimizing death, disease and injury associated with higher risk addictive behavior, while recognizing that the behavior may continue despite the risks. At the conceptual level, harm reduction maintains a value neutral and humanistic view of drug use and the drug user. It focuses on the harms from drug use rather than on the use itself. It does not insist on or object to abstinence and acknowledges the active role of the drug user in harm reduction programs.
At the practical level, the aim of harm reduction is to reduce the more immediate harmful consequences of drug use through pragmatic, realistic and low threshold approaches. Examples of the more widely known harm reduction strategies are needle exchange programs, methadone maintenance treatment, outreach and education programs for high risk populations, law enforcement cooperation, medical prescription of suboxone and other drugs and supervised use facilities.
There are many reasons why people engage in higher risk behavior and not all people are able to make the immediate changes necessary to refrain from such behaviors. This approach offers a set of non-judgmental policies and programs which aim to provide and/or enhance skills, knowledge, resources and support that people need to live safer, healthier lives. It encourages people to build strengths and to gain a sense of confidence.
Harm reduction can help move a person from a state of chaos to a state of control over their own life and health. On average, abstinence is the most feasible way to reduce harm. Interventions that aim for abstinence and for safer drug use both have a place within harm reduction. The key is to balance abstinence-based programs with those that reduce harm for people who continue to use drugs.