Harm Reduction 101
By: Kelsey Weigman, BCAP Prevention Coordinator
Harm reduction is defined as any steps, strategies, or techniques that decrease the harm and negative consequences associated with a behavior(s). Harm reduction shows up in many other facets of life not always related to substance use, such as wearing a seatbelt to lower the risk associated with driving to wearing sunscreen to prevent sunburns or skin cancer. However, for our work at BCAP and the scope of this blog, we’re primarily focusing on how we engage with substance use from a harm reduction lens.
A central tenet of harm reduction is to meet people where they are at. In relation to our work at BCAP, this means creating individualized goals dependent upon a specific person’s needs and desires. This requires us to realize not everyone in our community will be able to abstain from substance use or choose sobriety for themselves. So instead of creating “one-size-fits-all” messaging, we take time to listen to what is feasible and realistic for participants, educate them on the risks involved, and help them make informed choices to best protect themselves when using drugs.
The roots of substance use for an individual is complex. These can come from emotional and physical factors, often stemming from trauma, mental health, physical health, and survival needs. These issues are often compounded by the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, gender-based discrimination, and other social inequalities. Our syringe access participants often face a lot of structural and individual barriers that make stopping substance use all together a difficult goal to attain. Instead, encouraging small, participant chosen steps is a vital part of the harm reduction approach. All steps to reduce the harm associated with substance use are positive steps!
Harm reduction providers understand the complexities of substance use and utilize an approach that puts human connection, support, and health as its first priorities. People who use drugs care for their health and well-being, and of the well-being of those around them. Harm reduction focuses on always ensuring a non-judgmental space for clients to come to process their substance use, discuss safer drug use practices, overdose prevention, wound care, HIV and HCV screening, and a continued support system.
A harm reduction approach is meant to be inclusive for all people, whether they are hoping to cease use all together, decrease use, or maintain their current use. Our purpose is to help people access relevant health information and a broad range of services related to their substance use so they can lead as healthy and happy lives as possible.
BCAP's syringe access program is open Monday - Friday, 2pm - 5pm.