Harm Reduction Interventions Aim To Reduce The Negative Effects Of Health Behaviors

"Harm reduction refers to interventions aimed at reducing the negative effects of health behaviors without necessarily extinguishing the problematic health behaviors completely or permanently. Though the harm reduction model as we know it rose in prominence in the 1970s and 1980s in response to infectious diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV [1], its roots extend at least as far back as the early 1900s with narcotic maintenance clinics [2, 3]. In the context of substance use, harm reduction disentangles the notion that drug use equals harm and instead identifies the negative consequences of drug use as the target for intervention rather than drug use itself [4]. Harm reduction strategies include syringe exchange programs, safer injection facilities, overdose prevention programs and policies, and opioid substitution treatment. Harm reduction as an approach stands in opposition to the traditional medical model of addiction which labels any illicit substance use as abuse, as well as to the moral model, which labels drug use as wrong and therefore illegal [5]. While most often applied in treatment for illicit substance use, harm reduction is increasingly used in many different settings, with a variety of populations, and in instances where there is a desire to reduce the negative effects of legal/licit substances, such as in tobacco smoking reduction and e-cigarette substitution programs [6, 7], in programs to reduce the harms associated with alcohol [6, 8, 9], in interventions addressing eating disorders or domestic violence [10], or with people who exchange sex for drugs, money, or material goods [11,12,13]. Nevertheless, harm reduction has not been formally incorporated into the daily repertoires of healthcare providers who aim to improve health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, nutrition) among their patients."


Hawk M, Coulter RWS, Egan JE, et al. Harm reduction principles for healthcare settings. Harm Reduct J. 2017;14(1):70. Published 2017 Oct 24. doi:10.1186/s12954-017-0196-4