Harm Reduction



Harm reduction is an approach to public health issues that seeks to reduce the “harm,” such as risk of disease exposure and transmission, to individuals who engage in high risk health behaviors. It employs a range of strategies that includes educating individuals how to engage in those behaviors more safely not only for themselves but also for the community at large, as well as the provision of services. The principle tenet of harm reduction is to meet the client “where they are at” in a non-judgmental, non-coercive manner by creating a safe environment through which precautionary/safer practices targeting the risky behavior can be discussed and steps to reduce individual and community harm can be identified. That is, accepting that the behavior, such as injection drug use or engaging in high risk sexual activity, will continue, but significantly reducing harm to the individual and the community at large by controlling not the specific behavior, but the spread of disease via the behavior. Harm reduction programs operate on the philosophy that some individuals will eventually, when they are ready, cease the risky behavior(s) altogether and thus the program may also offer assistance and/or referrals to an array of services such as treatment and recovery.


Risky Behavior Harm Reduction High Risk Sexual Activity Syringe Sharing Syringe Exchange 
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Suggested Reading

  1. Beletsky, L., Davis, C. S., Anderson, E. D., & Burris, S. (2008). The law (and politics) of safe injection facilities in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 98(2), 231–237. Retrieved February 26, 2012 from Scholar

Suggested Resources

  1. Harm reduction and HIV. Retrieved February 13, 2012 from
  2. AVERT: Averting HIV and AIDS. Needle exchange and harm reduction/needle exchange and HIV. Retrieved February 13, 2012 from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Methamphetamine use and risk for HIV/AIDS (factsheet). Retrieved February 20, 2012 from
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2002). Methadone maintenance treatment (factsheet). Retrieved February 25, 2012 from
  5. Drucker E., Lurie, P., Wodak, A., & Alcabes, P. (1998). Measuring harm reduction: The effects of needle and syringe exchange program and methadone maintenance on the ecology of HIV. New York: Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center. PMID: 9633006. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from
  6. Harm Reduction Coalition. Principles of harm reduction. Retrieved February 20, 2012 from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Salk Institute for Biological StudiesLa JollaUSA

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