Harm Reduction Questions and Answers

  • Q: Why should harm reduction supplies be available to people who use drugs?

    A:

    Epidemiologic evidence documents that hepatitis C (HCV), HIV and various bacteria is present on drug-preparation equipment. Therefore, sharing drug use equipment increases the risk of viral and bacterial transmission. By providing clean, sterile equipment to users, in the quantity they desire, will help reduce negative health outcomes that can be associated with drug use. Needle Syringe Programs have demonstrated that they reduce HCV and HIV transmission among injection drug users and are cost effective public health programs1, 2. Additionally, research conducted at the University of Ottawa1, revealed that the distribution of additional harm reduction supplies through the OHRDP was associated with:

    • Significant decline in equipment sharing and re-using practices among clients
    • Increased capacity of Ontario Needle Syringe Programs to deliver evidenced based harm reduction resources including equipment and education to people who use drugs in Ontario
    • Increased use of Needle Syringe Programs which suggests potential greater exposure to the wide range of other harm reduction and health improving resource, materials and education available at Needle Syringe
    • Safer drug and sexual practices
  • Q: Are harm reduction strategies cost effective?

    A:

    From both an economic and human perspective, harm reduction programs are cost effective. Harm reduction programs are less expensive than the potential medical care costs, drug treatment and legal fees that would be necessary without the existence of such harm reduction interventions. Harm reduction programs have shown to reduce crime, making communities safer and reducing the amount of funds spent on court and prison costs.5

  • Q: What are the benefits of harm reduction programs to the greater community?

    A:

    Research shows that harm reduction programs and practices can3:

    • Reduce prevalence and incidence of HIV infection and hepatitis viruses in the community
    • Reduce injection substance use in public places
    • Reduce the number of used needles discarded in public places
    • Educate about safer sex and sexual health and increase condom use
    • Increase referrals to treatment programs and health and social services
  • Q: Do harm reduction programs promote drug use?

    A:

    Studies have proven that harm reduction interventions do not increase drug use, do not negatively impact drug treatment, and do not increase injection equipment disposal in public places4.

Footnotes

  1. Leonard L & Germain A. Ontario Harm Reduction Distribution Program: Final Outcome Evaluation. 2009.
  2. Strike C, Leonard L, Millson M, Anstice S, Berkeley N, Medd E. Ontario Needle Exchange Programs: Best Practices Recommendations. Toronto: Ontario Needle Exchange Coordinating Committee. 2006.
  3. BC Centre for Disease Control. Harm Reduction. Available at http://www.bccdc.ca/prevention/HarmReduction/default.htm. Accessed 11 December 2012.
  4. Ottawa Public Health. 2006.
  5. Gold M, et al. Needle Exchange Programs: An Economic Evaluation of a Local Experience. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 157(3); 255-262. 1997.