Harm reduction is a way of thinking about and practicing healthy ways of being that build on the risk reduction strategies we all use to keep ourselves as safe and healthy as possible.
Harm reduction is gaining worldwide acceptance and popularity as a public health philosophy and strategy because it has proven more effective in meeting people’s diverse health needs than the traditional public health models. People are starting to realize that medical models of health are very exclusive and benefit only a small group of people (those considered culturally, mentally and physically ‘normal’).
Some popular examples of Harm Reduction in practice:
- Free condoms – making condoms available for people who are sexually active to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections rather than simply telling people not to have sex at all.
- Designated Driver Programs – an official government message on alcohol doesn’t tell you to abstain from drinking altogether, but rather if you choose to drink, don’t drive a car.
- Needle Distribution Programs – offering new needles to IV drug users (anonymously) to reduce the risk of bloodborne infections like HIV and Hepatitis that are transmitted by sharing injection supplies.
Which came first, the philosophy or the practice?
Keeping ourselves as safe and healthy as possible is a part of human nature. We don’t set out into the world to intentionally harm ourselves, rather we do what we’re able to based on what is available to us in the circumstances of our lives. Remember, just because an option exists theoretically for all of us, doesn’t mean it’s accessible to or realistic for all of us.
At the Trip! Project
We are dedicated to reducing harm by providing non-judgmental info and supplies around safer drug use and safer sex through means that are practical, realistic and attainable for the person. This philosophy and practice is not in opposition to abstinence (ie: the infamous ‘Just Say No’ approach) but recognizes that simply ‘saying no’ is not a realistic, desirable or attainable goal for many of us. Instead, harm reduction offers a broader range of options for anyone looking for ways to sustain their health and wellbeing.
In order to know how to reduce harm, first we need to know what the risks are. For example, with alcohol and other drugs there are generally three categories of harm that can be associated with use. Risk of harm will depend on many variables of the use. They are:
- Quality and Quantity – how much and how often of what substance, taking into consideration the potency and purity of the drug (which is highly variable among illicit substances).
- Set and Setting – the ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘with whom’ of doing drugs: both physical environment, including who you are surrounded by, and your own headspace at the time.
- Route of Administration – the method of consumption: the different ways to get drugs into the person (snorting, shooting, eating, smoking, hooping, etc.) come with different risks.
The focus becomes the ways in which people use rather than whether or not they use. It is based on a reality that people always have and always will use drugs. The above factors of drug use can help us begin to think about the ways that we use so that we can make informed choices.
By users, for users
Trip! Project drug info is written by and for drug users in the party scene and although this is a rare type of info production (most drug info is written by doctors, scientists, social workers, teachers, clergy, non-drug users and anti-drug warriors), we are not the first to do it. The Harm Reduction movement was started by users who wanted their voices heard and their needs met. They were tired of being excluded from health care and ignored or discriminated against because of their drug use.
Some Words on RISK
Risk is a big word these days and reducing or minimizing risk is a hot topic especially when adults talk about young people and our ‘risk-taking behaviours’. Risk is the element of the unknown, the potential for harm that can be as exciting as it can be scary (think of bungee jumping or skydiving). We learn a lot through taking risks: think about some of the most important lessons you’ve learned: was it from someone telling you something? Or was it through something that you experienced first hand? Risk is a part of life and through taking chances we figure out so much about ourselves and the world around us. We can’t always know where borders are until we cross them. That being said, some risks we choose to take and others we may not have known were risky to begin with. That’s where informing yourself comes into play so you aren’t walking blindly into things, unaware of the possible outcomes. Of course nothing is 100% guaranteed, but when we share our knowledge and experience as youth, as drug users, as party people, we find that we are our own best library, school and teachers.
For example, knowing what happens in the body when someone does too much of a drug, or a mix of drugs, can help us figure out both how to prevent overdose and what to do if someone is overdosing. The knowledge we share with each other helps us make more informed decisions around how we live our lives.
This being a community project, we welcome feedback, criticism and any user, youth or party people experiences that you think would add to the richness of our collectively generated information. In conclusion: knowledge is power. Fuck safe, shoot clean. Just say KNOW!