FACT SHEET

I’ve never heard of harm reduction before. What is it?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing the public health risks associated with drug use. Harm Reduction calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people who use drugs, and the communities in which they live, in order to assist them in reducing harm. Harm Reduction is not the opposite of Recovery, it is just the more patient and sustainable route.

What does the Harm Reduction Action Center provide?

Since 2002, the Harm Reduction Action Center (HRAC) has been the primary provider of emergency, heath, and human services to injection drug users (IDUs) in Colorado. We are keeping Denver healthier and safer with proper syringe disposal, clean syringes, access to on-demand HIV/HCV testing, health education classes, street outreach, and referrals to mental health/substance abuse treatment.

But won’t giving drug users clean needles just encourage them to use more drugs?

People use drugs. While we wholeheartedly support substance abuse prevention and treatment efforts, we know that the most effective way to prevent the spread HIV or Hepatitis C (HCV) is to stop it at its source: the needle. By meeting drug users “where they’re at” in the spectrum of their use, we encourage any positive changes that our participants are ready and able to make. We know that our participants care about their lives and their wellbeing. We strive to provide the knowledge, tools, and support they need to make safer and healthier decisions.

Won’t letting drug users congregate at a drop-in syringe exchange program increase crime rates in the neighborhood?

Syringe exchange programs do not increase neighborhood crime rates. In fact, these programs benefit community health and safety by ensuring that contaminated syringes are properly disposed rather than discarded on the streets. In our 4 block radius (so 16 blocks total), drug-related crime actually significantly decreased the year we have been in our location vs. the year before we were in our location.

Why spend money on harm reduction and syringe exchange instead of treatment programs?

According to the Denver Office of Drug Strategy, there are 5,000 injection drug users in the City of Denver. In Denver, there are only 154 detox beds available. All injectors and alcoholics have to be detoxed for 72 hours before they can access treatment. Harm reduction is the life that happens between prevention of drugs and drug treatment. Syringe exchange programs are also highly cost-effective. The lifetime cost of medical care for each new HIV infection is over $400,000; the equivalent amount of money spent on syringe exchange programs prevents at least 30 new HIV infections. In addition to the reduced risks for disease, sterile syringe exchange programs facilitate greater access to drug treatment. These programs provide a crucial entry point into medical care, detox and rehabilitation, and mental health treatment.

Syringe Exchange Programs & Law Enforcement … natural allies?

Absolutely! When you have a syringe exchange in town, people are less likely to acquire HIV and HCV. So if officers get pricked, you are less likely to acquire HIV and HCV. 33% of law enforcement officials will be ‘stuck’ in the course of their career, we don’t want this to happen. Thanks to our 2013 legislation, participants of a syringe access program are exempt from carrying clean and used syringes, otherwise known as syringe decriminalization. When HRAC participants encounter law enforcement, they alert them they have syringes. Cops don’t get pricked, participants can carry clean syringes to prevent and eliminate the transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis, and it promotes proper syringe disposal in our community.

Exemption Card Specifics.

Exempting participants from syringe-related paraphernalia laws saves public dollars otherwise spent on court and jail costs associated with these charges and increases the number of potentially contaminated syringes returned for proper disposal. Since our exemption card was implemented in November 2012, syringe disposal rates rose by 91%.

Have more questions?

Email Lisa Raville at lisa.harm.reduction@gmail.com or call 303-572-7800.

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