Harm reduction is a public health strategy that aims to reduce the detrimental impacts of risky human actions, particularly substance use and sexual activities. It is a movement centered on the universal right to health, and a philosophy grounded on humanistic values.
Harm reduction recognizes that risky human actions, such as drug use and alcohol consumption, are inevitable in our world. It understands the complexity and diversity of addictive behaviors, thus the need to implement health-oriented strategies that will reduce unfavorable physical and social consequences associated therewith. Rather than prohibition or condemnation, harm reduction provides a range of solutions and alternatives based on the treatment goals of people in need, not on the subjective preference of general society.
International human rights standards and conventions make clear that the right to health is the responsibility of the state and the right of every person. It encompasses the right to control one’s own health and body; and the state’s obligation to provide equal healthcare access for all persons, including those whose risks for diseases and other harms root from socially unacceptable acts. Rooted on compassion and respect, harm reduction contributes to the promotion and protection of the fundamental rights of sexual or substance-using individuals, and also their families and communities.
Harm reduction is a set of health and social strategies resulting from the concerted efforts of experts, the private sector, and the government. It is a client-centered service delivery that closely works with people engaging in addictive behaviors to identify appropriate policies and programs that will best cater to the interest of civil society.
Societal risks and problems change continually and rapidly given the shifting landscapes of the world we live in. Consequently, harm reduction constantly evolves to cope with the predominant challenges in public health. It relies on research-based decisions, cost-effectiveness, and cost-benefit analysis to effectively minimize damage in diverse and dynamic social, cultural, and economic settings.
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Beyrer, C., Sherman, S. G., & Baral, S. (2009). Harm reduction, human rights and public health. In HIV Prevention (pp. 499-523). Academic Press.
Blume, A. W., & Logan, D. (2013). Harm reduction approaches. In Interventions for Addiction (pp. 633-641). Academic Press.
Des Jarlais, D. C., Feelemyer, J., Berg, H., & Perlman, D. C. (2021). Notes on harm reduction and the opioid epidemic in the United States. In The Opioid Epidemic and Infectious Diseases (pp. 237-246). Elsevier.
Quah, S. R. (2016). International encyclopedia of public health. Academic Press.