I would like to see harm reduction beliefs and practice at the heart of treatment services , alongside the confidence and hope that abstinence is possible if chosen as a treatment goal .
new world of learning for me . It taught me about working with the most marginalised and vulnerable groups of people , the many benefits of needle and syringe programmes , street outreach work , low-threshold prescribing and HIV prevention . This experience has stayed with me throughout my career .
For the next 20-plus years I have worked in the third sector in various roles . Thankfully , I ’ ve seen significant positive changes and improvements in the delivery and quality of drug
FTiare / iStock and alcohol treatment in the UK . My excitement and ambition for the new role of national harm reduction lead in Change Grow Live are huge , as is the organisation ’ s commitment to reducing drug-related deaths and improving quality of life for people who use substances . We are determined to ensure that people across the sector and partner agencies are informed , confident and competent in offering harm reduction interventions where every contact counts .
We are committed to invaluable cross-sector workstreams such as providing more life-saving naloxone , encouraging more people into treatment , and more outreach , especially for people living alone or isolated from support . More and more evidence points towards the harm that untreated or undiagnosed long-term health conditions can bring to people who use drugs or alcohol , and we want to ensure that people are able to access the mainstream healthcare treatment they deserve .
MEETING OURSELVES WHERE WE ARE The terminology and language we use to describe approaches and strategy often changes . I personally like ‘ meeting people where they are ’ in their own journey and
WHAT DOES HARM REDUCTION MEAN ?
I was once asked by a group of newly qualified social workers what harm reduction meant to me . Without much forethought , I said something like ‘ it ’ s a common sense , pragmatic response to someone ’ s drug and alcohol use . It ’ s a bit like all cars being fitted with seatbelts , or dental hygiene and hand washing that we all take for granted , but with the same principles applied to offering people basic compassion and respect in keeping themselves safe .’ Of course it means much more than this – from the non-stigmatising language we use to greet and engage people , to easy-access low-threshold services , specialist prescribing and optimised dosing and treatment , treatment has to be both accessible and attractive to the people who need it .
We know the reality of how poverty , class , racism , social isolation , trauma , discrimination and other social disparities affect people ’ s vulnerabilities . The harms that can arise from drug and alcohol use demand a response that is grounded in harm reduction . I regard people who use drugs to cope with trauma with real heartfelt compassion , because that person is me with the winds of fate blowing a different way .
ensuring we provide individualised interventions for each person ’ s presenting needs .
The sector has changed a lot over the last few decades , and harm reduction has not always been as much of a focus as it should have been . Noticing the sector ’ s changing shape , with budgets increasing then shrinking with treatment targets / outcomes changeable and more focused on discharges , and the casualties of staff development , training and key competencies around some harm reduction interventions have not always been as high as we would envisage or aim for .
We must look at the UK and the rest of Europe ’ s approaches to harm reduction , learn what we can from the pandemic , and take on board the recommendations of the Dame Carol Black review . Then we can refocus and revitalise our collaborative approach to harm reduction principles and help to improve the experiences of the people who use our services .
The pandemic stopped us all in our tracks . Every day new situations tested our ability to keep vulnerable service users safe . The very harm reduction principles that have improved our practice over time became more important than ever , and demonstrated the real importance of safe clinical practice .
The new UK strategy allows us the financial and strategic reinvestment to ensure the support we offer is grounded in the guiding principles of reducing the harms associated with drugs and alcohol , and helping people to change the direction of their lives .
Peter Furlong is national harm reduction lead for Change Grow Live
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