What is Harm Reduction?

This video is part of the NIDA series At the Intersection: Stories of Research, Compassion, and HIV Services for People who Use Drugs.

“Harm reduction” is defined as interventions aimed to help people avoid negative effects of drug use, but many understand harm reduction as a way to meet people where they are with kindness and respect. In this video, we hear from people who use drugs, people who are in recovery, and harm reduction professionals on what harm reduction is (and isn’t) in their own words.

What is Harm Reduction?

Video length: 3:51


[Dr. Hansel Tookes] Harm reduction was started by people who use drugs to save each other's lives.

[Voiceover] Here on 7th ave, right under the sun in Miami, Is Florida’s pioneering syringe service program,  the IDEA Exchange, where tools like harm reduction, advocacy and compassion are being used to save lives.

At the Intersection: Stories of Research, Compassion, and HIV Services for People Who Use Drugs

What is Harm Reduction?

At the intersection where compassion meets community, harm reduction takes on a more active role to avoid negative health outcomes and it does so by meeting the community where they are.

[Chetwyn “Arrow” Archer] Harm reduction is basically bettering a person's life and the whole community.

[Brooke Heimann] Harm reduction to me is being able to go to a place and get clean stuff to use and not have to rely on like going to a street and buying it, or like hoping you're getting something clean, or whatever it is.

[Dr. Eddie Suare]: Harm reduction is understanding the world of the other and immersing yourself in it for long enough to understand from their point of view, meeting them where they're at.

[Dr. Tookes] Just like we meet people on the street with syringes, I meet my patients by kneeling down, you just have to do what you have to do in order to be on that level and be on the same wavelength of the people that you're taking care of. 

[Frankie Martinez] Harm reduction to me is making sure our people here are taken care of.

[Brook]: Harm reduction is, basically just having a place to go to, or people to talk to about anything and everything. 

[Dr. Suarez] Harm reduction is giving more because that's what they need in the moment.

[Brooke] They offer Suboxone to help you get off, or whatever it is, like they work with you here. And I just think that's amazing because really we didn't have a place like that..

[Voiceover] Suboxone is a medication used to treat opioid use disorder.

[Dr Tookes] There are studies that show people who use SSPs are five times as likely to enter treatment. 

[Voiceover] Syringe services programs like IDEA Exchange can provide a range of services, including sterile syringes, vaccinations, HIV testing, and help accessing substance use treatment.  Nearly 30 years of research show syringe services programs are safe, effective, and cost-saving tools that can prevent HIV and other complications among people who use drugs.

[Dr. Tookes] Last night that we started 12 people on Suboxone and those are people who otherwise would not have had access to this lifesaving medication. And now they're on their road to recovery. Harm reduction is the first step in recovery. Syringe services is the first step. But now we have the ability to start people on lifesaving medications for opioid use disorder. We're helping people in their recovery, but wherever they are on that spectrum.

We have to respect the autonomy of our patients and understand that our one way of doing things does not work. We have to adapt and have a personal approach for everybody that we serve.

[Dr. Suarez] Harm reduction is holding someone by the hand and saying, "You're going to come with me because I have the time to commit to you because you're worth it. And so what do you need, do you need to go to detox? I'm going to go with you." Did you get them to the door? Did you follow up two days later to make sure they're still in treatment, or did they fall out? It should be, "Hey, I'm in this journey with you. You've now met me. You seem to want to do something to better your life, and I'm going to support you. Let's run that mission."

[Frankie] Harm reduction is understanding and compassion and strength and very nuanced.

[Dr. Tookes] Harm reduction is love.