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The CDC recently announced that nearly 108,000 people in the US died of overdose in 2021, a 15% increase over the prior year. That’s 108,000 loved ones – partners, friends, family, coworkers and community members.

And that’s another reason why we, as clinicians, support harm reduction. Harm reduction prioritizes human life over moral judgment. As harm reductionists, we aim to help our clients reduce risks associated with substance use over insisting on abstinence as the only path to recovery and quality of life.

But even harm reductionists justifiably worry about clients (and family and friends). When we do, it’s easy to fall into the habit of using scare tactics instead of care tactics. Here’s how we stay on track…

Build relationships

Society often wrongly sends the message that people who use drugs are immoral and criminal. People who use substances are often barred from accessing basic services such as housing and health care because of their substance use.  Building relationships on compassion and pragmatism is key. These building blocks create a space in which people who use drugs are honored as the experts on their own experiences and goals. This space allows for non-linear progress, celebration of big and small steps, and honest reflection.

Discuss safer-use strategies

Providing factual information will help people stay safe. There are many evidence-based safer-use strategies that can help reduce substance-related harm. Implementing just one or two of these strategies can reduce the risks when using. Have a conversation with clients about which strategies they are already using and provide affirmations for what they are already doing to stay safer and healthier. Ask clients what else feels achievable. Then, check in with them periodically to see how the strategies are working. Encourage clients to identify strategies that work for them; provide space for reflecting on strategies that don’t work.

Do your part to prevent overdose

Overdose prevention strategies are particularly important and can save lives. Here are a few steps you can take to prevent overdose in your community:

Everyone is worthy of care and opportunities to accomplish their goals, regardless of whether or not they use substances. We hope these care tactics help you, your clients, and your community stay safe together.

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