Skip to main content

What is…

Harm Reduction?

You’ll see lots of reference to Harm Reduction here on the HIT site, our history of providing Harm Reduction training, campaigns and innovations goes back to the very start in the 1980s… but what is harm reduction?

Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a public health and social justice approach aimed at minimising the adverse outcomes associated with various behaviours, substances, or activities, particularly those that pose risks or potential harm to individuals or communities. It recognises that complete avoidance or prohibition may not be feasible or effective for everyone and instead seeks to reduce overall harm and risks linked to these behaviours. Harm reduction strategies are often employed in the following areas:

Substance Use: Harm reduction strategies can include providing sterile needles and syringes to reduce the transmission of blood-borne infections among people who inject drugs, offering supervised injection facilities, distributing naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, supply of safer smoking supplies and providing access to substitute prescribing, rehabs, drug testing and other wraparound support services.

Sexual Health: Promoting safe sex practices, including the distribution of condoms and education about sexually transmitted infections, is a common harm reduction approach in the context of sexual health.

Safer Alcohol Consumption: In the context of alcohol use, harm reduction may involve promoting responsible drinking, designated drivers, and alternatives to drinking and driving to reduce alcohol-related accidents and injuries.

Tobacco: Strategies like nicotine replacement therapy, smoking cessation programmes, and information campaigns aim to reduce the harm associated with tobacco use.

Mental Health: Harm reduction can be applied in the context of self-injuring behaviours, such as providing individuals with safer alternatives or coping mechanisms to reduce harm to themselves.

Homelessness: Strategies may include providing housing-first initiatives and supportive services to address homelessness and its associated harms.

Harm reduction is pragmatic and compassionate, recognising that not all individuals can or will cease engaging in risky behaviours or using substances, but they can still be supported in making safer choices to minimise the negative consequences of their actions. The effectiveness of harm reduction varies depending on the specific context and the willingness of individuals to engage with harm reduction services and strategies.