Summary

  • Harm reduction means lessening the harm associated with ongoing drug use.
  • If your alcohol or other drug use is having a negative impact on your life or your relationships, talk to your doctor or call DirectLine on 1800 888 236 for free and confidential support and advice.

For people who use illicit drugs or misuse pharmaceutical drugs, stopping is not simple. Harm reduction is about finding ways to reduce the negative impacts of ongoing use.

Harm reduction initiatives are targeted at people who continue their drug use despite the negative consequences, which can include: overdose, relationship breakdowns, isolation, ongoing health issues, unemployment and involvement in the criminal justice system.

Harm reduction strategies are evidence-based public health approaches and specifically focus on providing benefit to the individual and those around them as well as the broader community.

Examples of harm reduction initiatives include:

  • needle and syringe programs
  • opioid pharmacotherapy treatment
  • peer education programs
  • diversion programs and caution schemes.

Victorian Needle and Syringe Program

The Victorian Needle and Syringe Program provides injecting drug users with access to sterile injecting equipment from various outlets across Victoria, often through pharmacies and community health services. Easy access to clean needles, syringes and injecting equipment reduces the chance of transmitting blood-borne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. The Needle and Syringe Program also creates opportunities for people to be provided with information on how to look after their health and wellbeing and to access appropriate drug treatment and other health services.

Opioid pharmacotherapy treatment

'Pharmacotherapy' is the term used to describe the use of medication (such as methadone or buprenorphine) to assist in the treatment of opioid dependence, most commonly heroin addiction. Taken on a daily basis, these medications help by managing physical drug dependence, drug craving and compulsive drug use behaviours. Opioid pharmacotherapy treatment is provided by community based doctors, who provide clinical care and prescriptions, and community pharmacies, which dispense the medication.

Peer education programs

Peer education programs are highly effective for communicating health promotion and harm reduction messaging to specific population groups, such as young people, injecting drug users or cultural groups. Community members are trained and supported to educate their peers on safer ways to use drugs or reduce the negative consequences of their drug use. Generally, people are very receptive to receiving harm reduction education from their peers and are more likely to take that advice on-board. Peer education programs are also particularly effective in getting harm reduction messages to people who are not ordinarily engaged in mainstream health or social services.

For more information on peer support, contact:

Diversion programs

Illicit drug use is associated with criminal activity and because of this many people who use illicit drugs end up with a criminal record. It is recognised that many people commit crime to support their drug dependence and therefore a drug treatment response is more appropriate than time in prison. Drug diversion programs involve offering drug treatment to people who commit less serious offences that are directly associated with their drug use. This type of program helps people to avoid a criminal record and gives them the opportunity for treatment.

Where to get help

More information

Alcohol and drug services topics

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Better Health Channel - (need new cp)

Last updated: September 2015

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