Just Say Know: Harm Reduction

Just Say Know: Harm Reduction

Written by Guest Blogger Karen Walker, Peer Education Intern

  • How would you explain the concept of harm reduction to someone who has never heard about it before?
  • Review Principles of Harm Reduction. What is the most important principle to you and why?
  • How will you apply harm reduction in your peer education work? Ex. When you’re facilitating small group presentations, or having one-on-one conversations with a peer?

At the heart of the SSDP Peer Education program is the concept of harm reduction. Harm reduction is a set of practices that minimizes risks and reduces the potential harms associated with a potentially dangerous activity, like drug use. The ideology behind this practice accepts that drug use is a reality that cannot be eradicated, and so we should aim to reduce the risks of using drugs rather than eliminate the use of drugs altogether. Examples of harm reduction that occur on a daily basis include wearing seatbelts in the car and wearing helmets while riding bicycles. Whether we are talking about safe bike riding or safe drug use, there are methods of doing these activities that are inherently safer than others. With proper information and tools, the infamous risks associated with using drugs can be greatly minimized, although they can never be eliminated altogether.

Sadly, critically important information about drug use is primarily learned from three sources: what a Google search tells you, what your friends tell you, and what you learn through trial-and-error and personal experiences. This information is anecdotal and uncontrolled; therefore, its reliability remains questionable. Worse yet, many of the harms that occur surrounding drug use could have been eliminated if the involved parties had only known more.

There are many harm reduction practices that are standard to the experienced drug user; however, this information is oftentimes left out of traditional drug education programs. For example, drug checking is an often underutilized harm reduction practice that can help individuals avoid taking unknown or adulterated substances. Drug checking kits are used to identify a substance by its reaction to different chemical reagents and can be determined by a color-coded chart. To a person who has decided to use a drug, utilizing a drug checking kit could be a life-saving decision; however, many still do not know that these kits exist or use them as frequently as drug use occurs. The Peer Education program can provide reliable information and introduce harm reduction practices to eliminate these risks before the user has to endure them.

Most central to the Peer Education program, the Principles of Harm Reduction “affirms drug 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.” On campus, SSDPers are often the most knowledgeable students on drug policy, drug use, and drug culture. Utilizing the Peer Education program materials to spread information about responsible drug use has the capacity to create an exponentially healthier campus environment compared to one without such information available. Although most students will still turn to their friends for advice, many more students will have reliable information and knowledge to share that can significantly impact one another’s safety and well-being. Thankfully, practicing harm reduction is easy; just share the information!

Although SSDP does not condone nor condemn drug use, each Peer Education module will be stocked with facts about individual drugs and harm reducing practices for using them. If a Peer Educator or anyone in the program meets an individual or group who is curious about using a drug, one simple line would suffice: “If you are going to use this drug, make sure to…” The Peer Education program provides the tools, information, and resources, but communicating and sharing what is learned holds the power to create a safer and more responsible campus.

You can get 10 points for responding to the Reflection Questions from this Training Curriculum module.

Check out ssdp.org/justsayknow for more information on peer education!

Interested in earning CAT points and getting involved?