News | 12 Feb 2024
Q: What is harm reduction?
A: Harm reduction is a non-judgmental approach to policies, programmes, and practices that seeks to reduce the negative health, social, and legal consequences of drug use, drug policies, and drug laws.
Q: What are some examples of harm reduction services?
A: NACOSA’s People Who Use Drugs Programme works with organisations like TB HIV Care, deploying peer educators like Justin Deary who take their time to know people who use drugs, listen to their stories without judging them. They assist them in accessing programs like Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST), provide methadone to reduce their dependency on heroin, and guide them.
Harm reduction is not limited to the use of drugs; it also includes minimising risks in our daily living. For example, it can involve helping a diabetic cut back on sugar-filled foods or a smoker quit smoking.
Q: What harm reduction interventions are in place?
A: HIV Prevention programmes that offer Harm reduction commodities (sterile injecting equipment), smoking packs for people who use drugs, condoms and lube, access to psychosocial support services, hepatitis testing, vaccination and treatment, human rights interventions and information and education on the prevention of overdose. However, for heroin users, harm reduction centres and services are limited in South Africa.
Q: How does harm reduction contribute to public health?
A: Harm reduction strategies, as supported by the National Drug Master Plan, and supported by the National Strategic Plan for HIV, TB and STI’s aim to reduce the harm associated with drug use at both individual and community levels. By providing education, counselling, opioid substitution therapy, and referrals to treatment organisations can improve health outcomes and reduce the social, health, and economic costs of drug use on society.
There is a health sector drug master plan but we await support from the Department of Health to escalate needle and syringe programmes and Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) across the nation.
Q: How can organisations address opposition to harm reduction programs?
A: Understand the concerns within the community before providing information.
Share success stories and humanise individuals by using their names and personal stories. For example, Berenice Petersen from Mitchell’s Plain, who once lived on the streets and battled heroin addiction, is now a peer field worker, assisting others still battling with addiction. She participated in our methadone program, and she has been heroin-free for almost 2 years and happily reunited with her family.
Avoid arguments, correct false information politely, and find points of shared interest for constructive conversations. Point out the positive impact of harm reduction on community safety and health.