Staying Safe: Harm Reduction

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Harm reduction includes a spectrum of practical strategies an individual can use right away to protect their own health and wellbeing whether or not they are using drugs. Harm reduction emphasizes quality of individual and community life and well-being — not necessarily cessation of all drug use — as the criteria for success. Harm reduction is focused on connecting with people compassionately and respecting their autonomy and personal goals—whether it be disease prevention, abstinence, or ways to stay safe while they continue to use substances.

Harm reduction strategies include:

  • Using one substance at a time (avoid mixing – particularly alcohol or pills with heroin or other opioids)
  • Using a small amount if you haven’t used in a while
  • Trying a small amount first to test strength, being especially careful if getting drugs from a new source or dealer
  • Using fentanyl testing strips to determine its presence in a supply of drugs
  • Choosing to smoke or snort rather than inject a substance, or ingest rather than smoke or snort
  • Not using alone and using in a safe environment
  • Drinking enough water to avoid dehydration
  • Eating regularly to ensure adequate nutrition
  • Getting sterile needles, naloxone overdose kits, fentanyl strips, or smoking supplies from a local needle exchange program

Injection Hygiene

Good injection practices:

  • Clean hands and fingertips before injecting
  • Apply warm compress to injection site before use
  • Inject in arms/legs instead of hands/feet
  • Rotate injection sites
  • Only use a syringe ONCE; however, if you must re-use a syringe, re-use your own syringe and not someone else’s
  • Use clean, sterile water to dissolve drugs which protect against skin infections and abscesses.

Safer Smoking Practices

Safer smoking supplies expand engagement opportunities with people who smoke drugs and do not inject. These practices:

  • Include the use of clean smoking equipment, lip balm, and filters
  • Reduce burns associated with smoking
  • Reduce health risks from sharing smoking supplies.
  • Reduce the higher-risk practice of injecting

Reduce Risk of Fatal Overdose

If overdose happens, rescue is more likely when people:

  • Don’t use substances alone
  • Have an overdose plan with someone nearby
  • Have a friend with you who knows what you’ve taken and how much so they can call for help if needed
  • Have naloxone (opioid overdose reversal drug) ready and have someone nearby who knows how to use it

Accessing Naloxone

County of los angeles California Public Health