Harm reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the negative health, social and economic consequences that may ensue from the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs, without necessarily reducing drug use (CHRN, 2012).
Harm reduction policies and practices emphasize the universal human right for the highest attainable standard for health of people who use drugs, and their families and communities.
People who use drugs are often engaged with helping professionals, including social workers and social service workers. The need for harm reduction practices within social work and social service work is further evidenced by the correlation between injection drug use and HIV and Hepatitis C transmission.
Injection drug users represent 71% of all newly transmitted HIV cases annually in Canada (CHNR, 2008). Current or former injection drug users represent 70% of all people infected with hepatitis C (CHNR, 2008). Every year, approximately 47 000 Canadian deaths are linked to substance abuse, including alcohol, psychotropic drugs and tobacco use (CCSA, 2012). Incorporating harm reduction practices, values and supportive guidelines in social work will effectively reduce the negative health and social burdens on people who use drugs.
We recommend an agency wide harm reduction mandate that incorporates harm reduction principles into social work practice, research and education. Our strategic proposal is embedded in evidence-‐based practice to scientifically support this integration of harm reduction policies into OCSWSSW mandates. Ethical formulation and implementation of harm reduction policy at an agency-‐wide level can, and will, influence social workers in direct practice with people who use drugs.
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