>A Look at Harm Reduction on World Aids Day
Eva’s supports young people with a youth-centred harm reduction approach.

Harm reduction is an effective health-oriented response. Choice, non-judgement, and non-coercion are its essential features in addition to pragmatism, humane values, and a focus on the harms. (CHRN, 2018)

Many assume that harm reduction programs and strategies such as Needle Exchange Programs and Safe Injection sites encourage drug use. It’s important to see substances in a broader context to understand why this is such a damaging misconception.

The reality is that all of us use substances in our daily lives. Only in certain circumstances does it become an issue of concern.

“[h]arm reduction is often the first or only link that drug users have to the health and social service system and, as such, it is a gateway to addiction treatment.”

People may use substances like drugs and alcohol for complex reasons that can include self-medication and dealing with trauma. Unfortunately, this kind of substance use is attached to high stigma, discrimination, and judgment. In some cases, people who use these substances may even be denied services they really need, such as healthcare. It’s unfortunate because the stigma makes it even more difficult for them to protect their health and makes reducing substance use all the more difficult.

In fact, “[h]arm reduction is often the first or only link that drug users have to the health and social service system and, as such, it is a gateway to addiction treatment.”  

Addiction is a complex health problem.

Anyone can be affected by it. Quitting all substance use immediately is not a realistic expectation for most individuals. That’s why abstinence-only services alone are not enough. Harm reduction is powerful because it helps people to be healthy and get support across the entire spectrum from abstinence to occasional use to heavy use.

Benefits of harm reduction work.

Harm reduction is practical and effective, that’s why we work from a harm reduction approach at Eva’s. It allows us to support young people struggling with addictions and substance use that causes them difficulties by meeting them where they are at and providing them with opportunities to move from chaos to stability. Harm reduction:

  • reduces hepatitis and HIV
  • reduces overdose deaths and other early deaths
  • reduces injection substance use in public, and reduce used needles
  • reduces sharing of needles and other equipment to reduce infections
  • allows people to learn about safer sex, sexual health, and condom use
  • allows people to find other options to substance use and identify ways to manage it in their lives
  • increase referrals to treatment programs and health and social services.

HealthLinkBC

In addition, overdose prevention sites reduce costs for the health care system. Harm reduction services have also played a large role in the response to the opioid crisis.

World Aids Day is focused on the prevention of AIDS and HIV related illnesses. Harm reduction is one approach we can use in prevention efforts and it has many other benefits.

If you are unsure about harm reduction programs and approaches, we encourage you to be empathetic, reflective, and learn more. If you feel uncomfortable with addressing drug use in this kind of practical way, ask yourself “why?” Is it due to the negative social stigma?

Operating from a place of stigma often hurts people who need support, such as youth experiencing homelessness, rather than helps them.

Michael is one of many youth that was supported by Eva’s Harm Reduction Program.

READ MICHEAL’S STORY
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Many young people who are homeless are at high risk of overdose and serious illness. When they come to Eva’s, they need harm reduction support to help them deal with substance use challenges.

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