Harm reduction is an approach rooted in public health and human rights. It aims to improve the lives of people who are affected by drugs or drug policies through evidence-based programming.
There are numerous drug-related harms that have health, social and economic impacts for individuals and communities. Recognising that licit and illicit psychoactive substances will always be used, practical public health approaches try to prevent or reduce the potential negative consequences that may arise. Examples include ‘designated driver’ schemes to avoid drink driving, providing nicotine replacement gums and patches accessible to people who smoke and implementing needle and syringe exchange programmes for people who inject drugs.
Injecting drug use is associated with many serious drug-related harms, such as the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and with fatal and non-fatal overdoses and injection site bacterial infections. In some parts of the world, these harms are widespread among people who inject drugs. Access to interventions such as needle and syringe exchange, opioid substitution therapies and naloxone distribution are essential to reducing these harms and improving the health of the people who use drugs.