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What it is
In public health, ‘harm reduction’ is a concept that aims to prevent or reduce negative health consequences associated with certain behaviors. In relation to drug injection, ‘harm reduction’ interventions aim to prevent the transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases that occurs through the sharing of non-sterile injection equipment and drug preparations. In all cases, prevention from drug use, cessation of drug use, and access to drug treatment are key components in harm reduction strategy.
Why it is Important
- Re-using and sharing needles, syringes or other equipment for preparing and injecting drugs represents a highly efficient way of HIV transmission. World-wide there may be as many as 2-3 million past and current injecting drug users living with HIV/AIDS, and more than 110 countries now report HIV epidemics that are associated with injecting drug use.
- In the absence of harm reduction activities, HIV prevalence among injecting drug users can rise to levels up to 40% or more within 1 or 2 years of introduction of the virus in their communities.
- HIV transmission through sharing of non-sterile injection equipment is augmented by sexual transmission both among injecting drug users and between injecting drug users and their sex partners. Hence, harm reduction carries significant HIV preventive potential for both injecting drug users and the general population.
- Interventions for injecting drug users that reduce HIV risks also have the potential to engage drug users in drug treatment services that may ultimately lead to abstinence from drug use. Finally, such programs can help individuals to avoid other health consequences of drug use, including hepatitis B/C infections and overdose deaths.
Syringe Exchange Program
Sterile syringe exchange is a public health program for injection drug users. It is an important component of a comprehensive set of programs designed to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne infections among injection drug users, their families and communities. For more information on Hawai‘i's Syringe Exchange Program and its assistance for program clients to access drug treatment services, click here.
Clean Your Works
New Attitudes and Strategies for IDUs
- King County Public Health (www.metrokc.gov)