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What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction means reducing the possible harm from activities humans do every day. As an example, wearing a seatbelt in a car or a helmet when bicycling. Seatbelts and helmets won't protect us 100% of the time, but they do reduce the risk for injuries or death.

Harm Reduction 101

  • Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing possible negative consequences, or harms, associated with drug use.

  • Harm reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs. View the principles of harm reduction.

Harm reduction acknowledges that drug use happens on a spectrum. On one end, there is non-use, and the other is dependent use. Most people fall somewhere in the middle. The stigmatizing assumption that all people who use drugs are the same creates barriers that keep people from accessing what they need for their health.

Examples of Harm Reduction in Other Areas
Birth Control
Speed Limits

History of Harm Reduction

Harm reduction found roots through the “underground” syringe exchanges during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s. It is now recognized as more than HIV prevention and syringes. Programs are opening in many states – including 19 sites for in-person or mobile exchange here in Colorado.


Learn more about harm reduction resources.

Harm Reduction Reduces the Risk of HIV and Hep C

Both HIV and Hep C (HCV) are generally spread through sexual contact or injection drug use. People who use drugs, face higher rates of HIV and HCV than people who do not. Many people who live with both HIV and HCV, can be treated for both viruses at the same time.

To reduce the spread of HIV and HCV, public health officials use harm reduction tools. Harm reduction tools are strategies used to prevent drug-related deaths by offering healthcare, social services and treatment.


Learn more about HIV and Hep C.

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