National Substance Abuse Prevention Month: Harm Reduction as Prevention

Oct 22, 2020 | Shalesha Majors

October is National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, an opportunity to acknowledge the impact of substance use in the U.S. and honor the people on the frontlines of the substance use epidemic—from local health departments, to community-based service providers, to people who use drugs (PWUD) and their loved ones. The epidemic of substance use is closely interconnected with HIV, STIs, and viral hepatitis. Consequently, a coordinated approach is needed to effectively combat this syndemic. That’s why this October, NACCHO is highlighting the role of harm reduction in the prevention of substance use, infectious diseases, and related health outcomes.

After decreasing between 2017 and 2018, preliminary data indicate that fatal overdoses increased in 2019, and the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be driving another increase in overdoses. The corresponding rise in injection drug use has catalyzed the spread of HIV and viral hepatitis: HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs (PWID) increased 11% between 2016 and 2018, and hepatitis C (HCV) incidence rose 71% between 2014 and 2018. Substance use is also closely associated with STIs and the behaviors that contribute to their spread, further demonstrating the need for a coordinated approach to substance use, HIV, STIs, and viral hepatitis. Not only are these epidemics closely interconnected, but they share social and structural risk factors, including poverty; inequitable access to housing, healthcare, and employment; stigma; and mass incarceration.

Harm reduction refers to a set of strategies that reduce the harms associated with substance use, including syringe services; education and counseling; the provision of the overdose reversal medication naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and condoms; and the provision of or referral to HIV, STI, hepatitis, or substance use disorder services. By meeting people where they are, harm reduction providers equip PWUD with tools to protect themselves from infectious diseases and overdose and build trust with a population that is often disconnected from public health and healthcare services.

Harm reduction is a powerful tool for the primary prevention of HIV, hepatitis B and C, and overdose. Syringe services programs reduce HIV and HCV incidence by 50%. By distributing naloxone and fentanyl test strips or by providing safe consumption counseling and education, harm reduction providers are also able to prevent fatal overdoses.

Harm reduction providers also play important roles in the secondary and tertiary prevention of substance use, infectious diseases, and related health outcomes. Harm reduction providers often offer testing and treatment or linkage to care for HIV, STIs, and viral hepatitis, ensuring early detection, improving health outcomes, and reducing further transmission. Local health departments and healthcare providers can play a similar role by screening for substance use among patients seeking HIV, STI, or hepatitis services and connecting them to harm reduction services or substance use treatment.

While harm reduction services are designed to meet the needs of PWUD, regardless of where they are in their journey of substance use or recovery, the trust they build with clients often leads to reductions in substance use and increased access to treatment. PWID are five times more likely to enter substance use treatment and three times as likely to reduce or stop injection drug use if they regularly visit a syringe services program.

Harm reduction service providers play a critical role in the primary prevention of HIV, viral hepatitis, and overdoses and the secondary and tertiary prevention of substance use and related health outcomes. To learn more about the safety and effectiveness of harm reduction services or opportunities for local health departments to provide or strengthen harm reduction services, check out NACCHO’s Syringe Services Programs & Other Harm Reduction Strategies policy statement.


About Shalesha Majors

More posts by Shalesha Majors

Related Posts

  • Webinar

Register for the Billing & 340B for Health Department...

This webinar will share what we learned about the local health department’s use...

Sep 24, 2021 | Jas Florentino

Register for the Billing & 340B for Health Department...

Sexual health clinic sign
  • Community Engagement

How Do LHDs work with Retail Health Clinics and...

NACCHO is interested in learning how local health departments may be working...

Sep 24, 2021 | Jas Florentino

How Do LHDs work with Retail Health Clinics and...

TB Collaboration Case Study
  • Infectious Disease
  • Tuberculosis

New NACCHO Case Study Series Highlights LHD and Health...

NACCHO developed a series of three Case Studies to share insights into how how...

Sep 22, 2021 | Erin Laird

New NACCHO Case Study Series Highlights LHD and Health...

NACCHO color pms321
  • Funding Opportunity
  • Injury and Violence Prevention
  • Opioid Overdose Epidemic

Request for Applications: Implementing Overdose...

In this funding opportunity, NACCHO will award up to ten high-burden counties...

Sep 17, 2021 | Andrea Grenadier

Request for Applications: Implementing Overdose...

9 30 21 webinar web
  • Webinar
  • Immunization
  • Maternal, Child, & Adolescent Health

Panel Discussion: Working Together to Protect Our...

NACCHO President Lisa Macon Harrison, MHP, joins Unity Consortium for a panel...

Sep 16, 2021 | Beth Hess

Panel Discussion: Working Together to Protect Our...

Health in Justice Action Lab just launched a...

Health in Justice Action Lab developed a toolkit in response to the increasing...

Sep 16, 2021 | Jas Florentino

Health in Justice Action Lab just launched a...

NACCHO logo small version02 square N pms321

NACCHO Mentorship Program Applications Open: NEHA-FDA...

The National Environmental Health Association recently announced their...

Sep 16, 2021 | Jas Florentino

NACCHO Mentorship Program Applications Open: NEHA-FDA...

Cdc logo

CDC released Preliminary Data for Congenital Syphilis...

CDC’s presents preliminary congenital syphilis data for infants born in 2020.

Sep 16, 2021 | Jas Florentino

CDC released Preliminary Data for Congenital Syphilis...

September 16th image 2

NACCHO is a Planning Partner for the 2021 National...

NACCHO is a Planning Partner of the 2021 National Sexual Health Conference...

Sep 16, 2021 | Jas Florentino

NACCHO is a Planning Partner for the 2021 National...

Back to Top