Harm reduction creates opportunities for positive change
Having worked in public health for the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time talking with people—in meetings, work groups, task forces, steering committees, and workshops—about the negative effects of substance use. In addition to discussing paths to recovery, we also talk about how to reduce the harms associated with substance use for the individuals in active use, for their friends and family, for the people in recovery, and for our broader community.
Sitting in meetings is important for connection, education and strategy. But after years of meetings, I believe the most important reason for all those meetings is community. Community is at the heart of harm reduction. When we’re in community, we learn together. We promote healing. We connect. We grow together, and we build foundations of trust. We create opportunities for positive change.
I think the most precious wisdom I received from my harm-reduction community is an understanding that change is possible when we create safe, accepting spaces and when we honor and support all paths to wellness.
There are many ways to support individual and community wellness through harm reduction. For those who work with people who are actively using substances, we might think of syringe service programs, naloxone (Narcan) distribution, overdose prevention and education about safer use practices.
For people engaged in recovery, harm reduction can also be practiced by referring a friend or loved one for HIV or Hepatitis C testing at a local health center, like Greater Portland Health or Frannie Peabody Center. Harm reduction is also safer sex supplies and birth control; reaching out to Maine Family Planning offices statewide can be a great way to get connected.
For some, harm reduction is taking medication—like suboxone or methadone—to reduce opioid cravings and overdose fatality risk. There are providers in Maine to assist with this.
Harm reduction can be encouraging smoking 19 cigarettes a day instead of a pack.
Harm reduction is meeting and accepting people where they are. No expectations, just acceptance and appreciation.
Sometimes it’s a seemingly tiny movement—the interest in talking about resources, for example. Sometimes it’s bigger—connecting with safe supplies and resources through an organization like Maine Access Points or Amistad. Sometimes it feels huge, treatment for Hepatitis C or a detox program. Steps are individual. What seems like a huge step to one person might be a tiny step for another.
We don’t need to judge. We are here to support each other on the road to wellness. We say today, right now: I am here to support you and your goals for this moment. This day. This week.
And above all, we are here to love. Harm reduction is Love. Acceptance. Understanding. Being present, with compassion. Showing up, without judgement. And yes, it really is hard sometimes.
It does take practice.
But know this: Love, together in community, is always a good place to start.
For more information about Harm Reduction services in Maine, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.