What is harm reduction?

Harm reduction refers to the policies and practices focused on reducing the problematic effects of alcohol and other drug use, as well as to reducing risky health behaviours. Decrease the spread of sexually-transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBIs).

Harm reduction is the only global drug policy response that has proven to save lives and money at the same time as increasing quality of life.

Taking a harm reduction approach includes:

  • A focus on the harm not on the substance or behaviour
  • A focus on what the person sees at their most immediate need
  • Acceptance that there are benefits and consequences substance use
  • Acceptance that small gains add up over time
  • A focus on decreasing more immediate harms versus striving for a drug free society
  • Recognition that people know what is best for them
  • The need to give people choice and access to a broad range of options for safety and health
  • Provide testing, treatment, and counselling for STBBIs
  • Confidentially contact sexual and drug-using partners
  • Run safer sex campaigns
  • Recognition that people are doing the best they can with what they have
  • Connect people to health and social services
  • Provide supplies that keep people safe, including condoms, syringes, and safer crack use kits
  • Deliver education to communities and health providers



Helene Estrada, Tribal Health Educator
Allen Contois, Project Coordinator, FIRE with FIRE