The term Harm Reduction refers to a set of principles and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with substance use, without requiring abstinence. A harm reduction approach focuses on the health, rights, and social wellbeing of people who use drugs, instead on reducing or eliminating drug use. This approach recognizes that people are experts on their own body, goals, and substance use journey. Consequently, a harm reduction approach meets people where they are at and works to empower people to make own choices regarding their substance use.  Finally, harm reduction relies on a belief in the rights of people who use drugs, and is a strategy that upholds the right of people who use drugs to self-determination and dignity while receiving support in meeting their self-identified needs.

Harm Reduction as a movement operates on an individual, community, and systems level. For individuals, harm reduction may look like day-to-day practices that help people stay safe while they use drugs, as well as support in accessing essential resources such as food and housing. For communities, harm reduction involves advocacy for people who use drugs in various settings, and challenging policies that create barriers to access. Finally, harm reduction involves a system-wide movement for improved drug policies, access to basic needs, and other social changes.

Harm reduction originated in multiple movements that emerged across the United States, including the Black Panther Party’s survival programs, the Young Lords’ launch of an acupuncture program for heroin users, the women’s health movement, and the grassroots response to the AIDS crisis. These movements included strategies such a distributing supplies for safe use, opening up safe consumption sites, offering community support, practicing mutual aid, and acts of civil disobedience. People who use drugs have always been the key leaders and participants in harm reduction. Harm reduction strategies used to this day were developed by people who use drugs, to protect themselves and their communities. More recently, various medical, non-profit, and social service organizations have taken on a harm reduction approach to reduce the harms associated with drug use.

Breakaway’s Approach: Key Beliefs and Principles

We believe that:

  • People use substances for many reasons.
  • People are making the best choices they can using the knowledge they have and the resources that are available to them.
  • It is imperative to meet people where they are at in their journey with substance use.

We believe  that:

  • People are experts on their own body and must be supported in their bodily autonomy.
  • The lived experiences of people who use drugs must be respected and taken seriously as a source of expertise.
  • People who use drugs must be supported in having their self-identified needs and goals met.
  • People who use drugs must be meaningfully and substantively involved in decisions that involve their own lives.

A harm reduction approach recognizes that:

  • While abstinence can be a form of harm reduction, it is not the end goal. Sobriety is not feasible or desirable for many people.
  • People should not be expected to change or stop their substance use to receive dignity and respect.
  • Service provision should be low barrier, and access to services should not be continent on abstinence.
  • Substance use itself is not problematic. It is part of our lives and our world. Many people may not want to stop using, and nobody should be punished for this.

At Breakaway, all our programs and services are:

  • Delivered using an evidence based approach.
  • Constantly adapting to meet the needs of our clients and community.

Breakaway’s approach to harm reduction takes all aspects of our client’s lives and situations into account.

Breakaway’s approach recognizes that

  • The War on Drugs harms people by punishing people to the poisoned illicit drug market and by criminalizing health issues.
  • Laws that target people who use drugs disproportionally target racialized, immigrant, and poor communities.