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Reducing Harm for Those Who Use Drugs

Although ‘prevention’ often refers to the prevention of substance use before it occurs, the reality is that even once a person starts using substances regularly, we have the opportunity to prevent further harm from their substance use in an effort to improve their overall health. Harm reduction refers to a set of strategies that ultimately meets people where they are in an effort to help them achieve healthier outcomes for themselves. It recognizes their hopes and needs in guiding decision-making and involves them in the process.

Examples include:

  • Using Narcan (naloxone) to prevent a fatal overdose.
  • Providing clean syringes and bleach kits in order to prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis or other communicable diseases.
  • Teaching people who use drugs how to properly care for wounds and injection sites to prevent infections.
  • Educating people who use drugs on how to prevent an overdose.


Addiction often leads individuals with substance use disorders to become more and more isolated from others; harm reduction focuses on building relationships with people who use drugs so that they are no longer isolated. It also increases the likelihood that individuals will engage in healthcare services and possibly treatment for their substance use disorder. Additionally, it helps keep healthcare costs down because if people are healthier when they engage in services, there will be less utilization of higher-cost healthcare procedures. Ultimately, everyone benefits when there are lower rates of communicable diseases and fatal overdoses in a community.