Harm reduction is a way of helping someone to reduce the impact that drugs, alcohol or other such risky behaviours can have on their health, but in a safe and manageable way.

For example, simply forcing someone to cut down too quickly or severely on drugs or alcohol can often do more harm than good, as their bodies simply aren’t prepared to cope with such a sudden change.

That’s why harm reduction takes a person-centred approach, going at the pace of the individual. Crucially, the person has to want to reduce their use, or at least minimise the potential risks, if they wish to improve their circumstances and well-being.

To make this achievable, we believe it is up to the person themselves to decide upon goals which are realistic and sustainable. For example, this could include:

  • Smoking rather than injecting drugs
  • Adding ice cubes to a drink, or drinking beer instead of spirits
  • Doing more of something e.g. eating regular meals and getting good quality sleep, or taking medication prescribed by a GP

Harm reduction also widely encompasses a range of other approaches, including:

Take-home Naloxone - providing service users and staff with this life-saving drug which temporarily reverses an opioid overdose by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain

Needle exchange and supply – providing sterile injecting equipment to reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis C, as well as reduce wounds and infections caused by injecting. This also promotes safe disposal of used needles and other drugs paraphernalia

Safer injecting guidance - offering advice and information to reduce injecting-related harm

Training - providing up-to-date information across the workforce and service user group

Advocacy - lobbying for rights-based change including measures to reduce overdose deaths

Using the evidence base - learning from research about ‘what works’

Relationship-building is central to the idea of harm reduction. Fundamentally, we believe that the individual we support is the expert in their own lives, and so they are best equipped to know what they can and cannot hope to achieve.

Harm Reduction is a journey for everyone. For one person, the end goal may be abstinence, for someone else it may be about beginning substitute prescribing, while for another it may be about facing another day and just keeping going. We can never underestimate the power that we have to support people with reducing harm and giving them a voice in a world where they often feel marginalised, stigmatised, and unheard.


Image of why there is a critical need for harm reduction