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As a part of our harm reduction educational resources, we’ve gathered a list of key terms that will aid you along your journey of acquiring knowledge. Harm Reduction International defines harm reduction as “policies, programs, and practices that aim to minimize negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies, and drug laws.” Harm reduction is reducing the harms associated with public health concerns. In essence, harm reduction work means meeting people where they are at, with no judgment. The goal of harm reduction is to remove the risks associated with living with mental illnesses, substance use disorders, food insecurity, being homeless, and more much.

Below, the key terms listed will assist you in understanding the terminology often used by harm reduction advocates and policymakers.

Key Terms

  • Addiction is classified, as a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.

  • Advocacy is the public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.

  • Biohazard Containers also known as “sharps containers,” are used to collect devices or objects like needles, which are capable of cutting or piercing the skin or regular waste bags.
  • Decriminalization means to remove or reduce the criminal classification or repeal a strict ban while keeping it under some form of regulation.

  • Harm Reduction is reducing the harms associated with public health concerns.

  • Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. The virus is spread by contact with contaminated blood, for example, from sharing needles or from unsterile tattoo equipment.

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)  is a virus that attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more vulnerable to other infections and diseases. It is spread by contact with certain bodily fluids of a person with HIV, most commonly during unprotected sex (sex without a condom or HIV medicine to prevent or treat HIV), or through sharing injection drug equipment.
  • Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide treatment for substance use disorders.

  • Person-Centered Care is a way of thinking and doing things that includes the people and families using health and social services as equal partners in planning, developing, and monitoring care to ensure it meets their needs.

  • Persons Who Inject Drugs (PWID) are a medically and socially vulnerable population with a high incidence of overdose, mental illness, and infections like HIV and hepatitis C.

  • Stigmatizing Language can perpetuate negative stereotypes about people with mental illness and substance use disorders. Stigmas create barriers to equal access to housing, health care, and other resources.

  • Substance Use Disorder (SUD) involves patterns of symptoms caused by using a substance that an individual continues taking despite its harmful effects, also known as an addiction.

  • Syringe Exchange Programs provide sterile syringes in exchange for used ones. Additionally, syringe exchange programs often other harm reduction services like HCV and HIV prevention information and screening or referrals to drug treatment and social services.

  • Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach in the human service field that assumes an individual is more likely than not to have a history of trauma. Trauma-Informed Care recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role trauma may play in the care plan.

  • Voluntary Services are services made available to clients but are not mandatory.

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