Eliminating the Risks of Substance Use: Harm Reduction Approach  

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Laveeza Fatima, a 19 years old medical student at Allama Iqbal Medical College, Pakistan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The root cause of evil can not be defeated, but the thing to do-believe is we can help lessen evil.  Similarly through policies, programs and practices, a harm reduction approach aims to reduce the  negative consequences of using psychoactive substances, without necessarily reducing the use of  substance itself. Abstinence may not be a realistic or desirable goal for a person and emphasizes that  stopping substance use is not required to access health or social services. 

A well known example of harm reduction is that drinking and driving laws allow drivers to have a  small amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. Considering the fact, even small amounts of alcohol  can affect people’s ability to drive safely. But the focus is not on eliminating alcohol use from drivers  completely rather on setting a limit over which the greatest risk of causing a serious accident is  defined. 

Injecting drugs such as heroin is illegal, yet harm reduction advocates for clean needles to be  provided for drug use free of charge. This is because there is more harm caused to individuals who  inject drugs, the health care system, and society as a whole when need sharing practices lead to  serious health concerns like HIV and hepatitis transmission. 

Needle exchange programs do not encourage drug use. In fact, they are usually the first point of  contact for many people to access addiction treatment services. The most effective way to eliminate  the negative consequences of injection drug use is to stop injecting drugs. However, harm reduction  approaches acknowledge that many people are unable or unwilling to stop immediately. According to a summary of research compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC), syringe service programs are safe, effective, and cost-saving. They are particularly useful  when utilized in conjunction with other effective community-based prevention programs. Safe injection sites go a step further than needle exchange services by providing clean needles and  injection equipment, a safe space in which people can inject drugs, and medical supervision of the  injection process. The harm reduction goals of needle exchange services can help with reducing the  transmission of HIV, hepatitis, and other infections. They also reduce damage caused by unclean  equipment being used for injecting. These safe injection rooms also offer a safe space and  immediate help if an overdose occurs. 

Naloxone is an FDA-approved medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. It is an  essential life-saving tool, but many people still do not have access to this medication.Harm reduction  services may provide naloxone along with overdose education kits. They may teach people to  recognize the signs of overdose so they can provide assistance or get help.The Centers for Disease  Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that providing naloxone kits to individuals is safe, cost-effective,  and reduces overdose deaths.Such kits are recommended for people who might witness an  overdose, people who are in substance use programs, people who are leaving prison, and people  who have been prescribed opiates. 

In short, harm reduction is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of programs and  interventions that are aimed at reducing the detrimental effects of substance use and risky behavior.  Harm reduction does not encourage drug use and may actually increase the likelihood that people  enter drug treatment. Examples of harm reduction programs that can be effective include needle  exchange services, safe injection facilities, overdose prevention programs, and free condom  distribution services. 

Substance use can have a serious impact on the life and well-being of people who use drugs and  alcohol, and the harm associated with drug and alcohol misuse extends to loved ones as well as  communities and societies at large. Harm reduction works to minimize these risks while treating  people who are affected by substance use with humanity and dignity. Talking to a healthcare  provider to learn more about which harm reduction programs might be helpful for the people who  use drugs or their loved one will prove to be beneficial for the community as a whole.

About the author

Laveeza Fatima is a 19 years old medical student at Allama Iqbal Medical College, Pakistan. She
strongly believes in a world with medical students having the power to change the face of public

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