What is Harm Reduction in Addiction Treatment?

Addiction can be a challenging problem to overcome. When our body becomes reliant on a particular substance, it can start to lose function when we deprive our body of it. Despite the pain and damage it can cause, our body needs it in order to function correctly, especially if a patient has built a long-term dependence on a particular substance.

But the chemical and biological factors of addiction aren’t the only thing to worry about; we also have to be aware of the social challenges.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a series of policies, programs, and practices that are designed to reduce the negative social impact on those who are facing addiction. It is based on justice and human rights principles and focuses on introducing positive change and understanding to assist those who are facing addiction and its associated symptoms.

There is a range of social and health services that aim to assist people in breaking free from their addiction, but also reintegrate into society without being discriminated against. This may include support groups, drug checking, overdose prevention, psychosocial support, and addiction treatment.

While there is no official definition as to what defines harm reduction, it’s based on important principles that are communicated clearly to everyone that is involved in the programs and policies that it covers.

What are the Benefits of Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction seeks to understand and accommodate those who may be abusing substances or have developed an addiction to something. Harm reduction has many positive benefits, such as but not limited to:

  • Reduced sharing of substance use equipment that could potentially spread disease and infection among users.
  • Reduced stigma against those who are currently facing addiction and substance abuse problems.
  • Access to health services that will not discriminate against those who are facing addiction and substance abuse.
  • Reduced number of overdose deaths due to more controlled use of substances.
  • Increased access to support programs and health and social services from referrals.

Heroin and Opioid Harm Reduction

Community efforts can help in harm reduction of heroin and opioid users. This can involve the community management of opioid overdose, needle and syringe distribution programs, and also medication-assisted treatments (MAT).

Harm reduction programs can distribute naloxone, a medication that reverses the effect of an overdose, to help reduce the number of deaths caused by overdoses and save lives in an emergency. Similarly, needle and syringe distribution programs can reduce the chances of viruses and infections spreading between users by providing sterile injection equipment.

Alcohol Harm Reduction

There are also a number of alcohol harm reduction strategies that are used to help people break free from alcohol addiction. This can include:

  • Bringing more awareness to drinking such as understanding how much alcohol one consumes and the problems that it comes with.
  • Highlighting positive aspects of one’s drinking and looking for alternatives to get the same benefits.
  • Understanding the intentions behind drinking and why someone may consider it.
  • Learning how to define limits with drinking to avoid building dependence or harming one’s personal health.

Medications used in MAT (Medication-assisted treatment)

MAT involves the use of prescription medication as an alternative to opioids and other drugs. This can include methadone and buprenorphine which are both administered as alternatives to prevent overdose.

How Effective is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction has been shown to be extremely effective. Studies have shown that needle and syringe programs have an annual decrease in HIV prevalence by up to 18.6% compared to annual average increases of 8.1% in cities without the programs. In Australia, similar programs have prevented more than 32,000 new HIV infections.

Methadone maintenance programs have also been tied into decreases in death rates and have been shown to be effective in reducing heroin use and crime rates. In Canada, drug users that shared needles dropped from 40% in 1996 to just 1.7% in 2011 once the city opened its first supervised injection site for drug users.

Get Help at Peaks Recovery

If you’re looking for a harm reduction program to assist with addiction treatment then don’t hesitate to get in touch with Peaks Recovery today. As specialists in addiction treatment, we understand the need for harm reduction and how effective it can be in helping individuals cope with their addiction and eventually break free from it.

Contact us today and we’ll assist you in finding the right program for your needs.