Harm Reduction Coalition Img

Harm Reduction Coalition

The Harm Reduction Coalition is committed to reducing drug-related harm among individuals and communities. HRC initiates and promotes local, regional, and national harm-reduction education, interventions, and community efforts. HRC fosters alternative models to conventional health and human services and drug treatment. It challenges traditional client/provider relationships. It provides resources, educational materials, and support to health professionals and drug users in their communities to address drug-related harm.

The Harm Reduction Coalition believes in every individual's right to health and well-being, and believes they are competent to protect and help themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.

What Is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies that reduce negative consequences of drug use, incorporating strategies from safer use, to managed use, to abstinence. Harm reduction strategies meet drug users where they're at, addressing conditions of use along with the use itself.

Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies designed to serve drug users reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction. However, HRC considers the following principles central to harm reduction practice.

  • Accepts, for better and for worse, that licit and illicit drug use is part of our world and chooses to work to minimize its harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them.
  • Understands drug use as a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon that encompasses a continuum of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence, and acknowledges that some ways of using drugs are clearly safer than others. * Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being -- not necessarily cessation of all drug use -- as the criteria for successful interventions and policies.
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities in which they live in order to assist them in reducing attendant harm.
  • Ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug use routinely have a real voice in the creation of programs and policies designed to serve them.
  • Affirms drugs users themselves as the primary agents of reducing the harms of their drug use, and seeks to empower users to share information and support each other in strategies which meet their actual conditions of use.
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other social inequalities affect both people's vulnerability to and capacity for effectively dealing with drug-related harm.
  • Does not attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with licit and illicit drug use.

Why Do We Need Harm Reduction?

It is clear that most current approaches to drug use and drug-related problems help only a tiny fraction of those individuals who use illicit drugs. Drug-related problems continue to baffle communities across the country, leaving them feeling frustrated and hopeless in their ability to respond to the harm they experience in any effective way. Harm reduction works to redress the following injustices, among others:

  • There is a shocking lack of basic services that, if in place, would significantly help reduce drug-related harm. Many locales throughout the United States still have no needle exchange programs or over-the-counter sale of injection equipment as an HIV prevention measure, for example, and there are no methadone maintenance treatment programs at all in nearly one-fifth of the United States.
  • A lack of universal health care and a movement toward privatization and managed care threaten to reduce or eliminate altogether some of the few therapeutic services -- particularly drug treatment -- that currently do exist for users of illicit drugs.
  • The federal government spends approximately two-thirds of its drug intervention dollars on incarceration and prosecution and only about a third on drug education, prevention, research, and treatment combined.
  • Most therapeutic services for drug users, including drug treatment, are designed to serve the priorities of providers instead of the needs of consumers. Drug education and prevention campaigns are largely ineffective, attempting to scare people away from using drugs instead of equipping them with accurate information about drugs and drug use, including their adverse and harmful effects.
  • Current drug control strategies criminalize a huge proportion of the country's population. Since 1980, the number of adults incarcerated in state and federal prisons, local jails, and on probation or parole has more than tripled, with one-third of this expansion due to an increase in the number of drug law violators put behind bars. Women, African-Americans, and Latino/as have been disproportionately affected.
  • The HIV epidemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and continues to rage on. Swift public policy changes and the implementation of critical services could have prevented an untold number of deaths and HIV infections among injection drug users, their sexual partners, and children.

How to Reach the Harm Reduction Coalition

East Coast Office:
22 West 27th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Tel: (212) 213-6376
Fax: (212) 213-6582

West Coast Office:
1440 Broadway, Suite 510
Oakland, CA 94612
Tel: (510) 444-6969
Fax: (510) 444-6977

Harm Reduction Training Institute
Harm Reduction Coalition
22 West 27th Street, 5th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Tel: (212) 683-2334
Fax: (212) 213-6582