More about Harm Reduction

In a previous blog, I offered to follow-up with more discussion on harm reduction approaches to drug and alcohol use. In the original blog, I cited Erickson (2018:189) saying, “Harm reduction, also known as harm minimization, is a strategy for reducing harm to drug users and the people close to them, in cases where complete abstinence is not wanted or needed.”

Erickson indicates that the four main types of harm reduction strategies are public education, medication maintenance, needle exchange, and teaching about controlled substance consumption. I asked readers to ponder on whether or not they believe in harm reduction.

In a response to the original post, Christine wrote, “The goal =to keep people alive. If harm reduction can accomplish that, I am all for it.”(St. Jean 2022). Thanks for reading and commenting, Christine. So let’s build on Christine’s comments for a moment.

How can the harm reduction strategies stated above save lives? Let’s also assume that people who are using such substances are doing so out of free will. That is very important because otherwise the issue becomes more complicated. First, public education can save lives by activating the old African Proverb which states that when we know better, we do better. Some people are not sufficiently educated about the effects of drug and alcohol use, and such knowledge can save them from mild to chronic problems.

Second, medication maintenance can save lives because drugs and alcohol are often used as a form of self-medication in the absence (and unfortunately sometime in collaboration with) prescribed drugs. But if people are better educated about, and supplied effective medication, this can save lives accordingly.

Third, as Christine said, clean needle exchanges are important. They can reduce the spread of infections associated with needle sharing. Lastly, what about more public education on informing consumers of such substances about how much of it their bodies can tolerate based on height, weight, gender, preexisting medical conditions, and other factors? This too can save lives.

As you continue to exercise free will to use substances, and/or as you socialize with others who choose to consume them, please think on these things to help save lives.

Remember, the lives you save, may include your own.

Written By: Peter K. B. St. Jean, Masters Level Intern


Erickson, C N. (2018). The Science of Addiction: From Neurobiology to Treatment. 2nd Ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-71207-0.

St. Jean, Peter. 2022. “What do you think about Harm Reduction approaches to Substance use?

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