Harm Reduction

Harm reduction is a set of ideas and policies that can protect public health. You are probably familiar with some, like seat belt laws created to protect people in car accidents, or rules around mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harm reduction can also be used to reduce the harms that can happen with drug use. These policies and programs try to “meet people where they are at”, by helping them find safer ways to use drugs. These exist for different types of drugs, including alcohol, stimulants (like cocaine), and opioids. The idea is not necessarily to stop people from using drugs, but to provide ways for them to do so safely.

Harm reduction around opioid use tries to:

  • Prevent people from overdosing
  • Connect someone to treatment if they are ready
  • Stop people from passing certain diseases to others through needle drug use

The City of New Orleans uses harm reduction to address the opioid epidemic by promoting naloxone, legalizing syringe service programs (aka needle exchanges), and creating places for people to dispose of pills, needles/syringes, and other injection equipment.