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Harm Reduction: A Peer Perspective

I recently attended a conference with a theme of ‘harm reduction’ for people experiencing addictions. I was amazed at the presenters and the information that was shared. One presentation went into the history of harm reduction services and what is practiced now. Another presentation took me by surprise when the panelist introduced themselves as someone who was currently using substances.

I couldn’t be more proud of the organizers of this event to have welcomed someone who didn’t identify as being in recovery. I think this truly proved that every voice matters, but most importantly, so does the voice of those who many of us are trying to help.

I credit harm reduction services for my sustained recovery because had it not been for it, I wouldn’t have been so open about going to treatment. The agency that provided my treatment was the same agency that provided harm reduction services to me. I will never forget the shame and humiliation I would feel while using substances, but when I would get access to the harm reduction services, I would feel valued, loved, and embraced for exactly who I was in that moment.

That team of incredible people helped me feel safe to trust the agency for additional support when I needed it. Had I not had these services, I couldn’t have been alive in order to receive the higher level of treatment I needed in order to find recovery.

There is a lot of stigma around harm reduction. Many assume that it’s enabling someone to continue to use or self harm. In reality though, it’s enabling someone to stay alive. You cannot have healing if someone isn’t alive to experience it. Several people use harm reduction methods on a daily basis and don’t even realize it. Some of those examples include: sunscreen, seatbelts, speed limits, cigarette filters, condoms, and more.

Whether you believe and agree with harm reduction services or not, we all must come to an agreement that recovery cannot exist without keeping someone alive. The next time you may come across someone who is hurting, try to remember that every breath that they take is another chance they can begin healing.

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