Visit the Harm Reduction Glossary for definitions of some commonly used terms
Click on a title below to view or download the PDF about that subject.
Overview of Harm Reduction
Harm reduction is a set of everyday tactics that we can use to lower the chance of mental, emotional or physical harm that we may experience from something potentially harmful we are doing. Harm reduction is often associated to people who inject drugs and use substances, but whether or not we are currently using substances all of us have likely used harm reduction.
When bacteria enter the body during injection drug use it can cause an infection. When this happens the body responds by cutting the infection off from the rest of the body. If this walled off portion becomes an abscess it will be inflamed and filled with pus.
Drinking alcohol causes liver damage. Over time this damage becomes more severe. Moderation is important for everyone. It is especially important for people who are living with hepatitis C. Working to reduce and eliminate drinking alcohol is very important for people living with HCV. This is because the damage caused by alcohol can accelerate or worsen the natural progression of the disease.
Using bleach to clean syringes CAN possibly kill HCV. There is no guarantee that HCV will be killed using bleach. The following steps will help. To be certain HCV infected blood is not in the syringe you are using to inject you should NEVER share a syringe with another person and NEVER reuse a syringe of your own. You cannot give yourself HCV, but reusing a syringe can cause trauma and bacterial infection.
Cocaine is extracted from coca leaves and was originally developed as a pain killer. Most often it is snorted but can also be injected or rubbed into the gums. Its main form is a white powder. It is often “cut” or mixed with things like corn starch, baking soda, amphetamines and other substances or poisons.
People who inject drugs often use pieces of cotton when injecting heroin or a similar drug to filter out impurities (dirt, bacteria) that can be harmful. Cotton fever is caused by bacteria inside of the cotton and not by the cotton itself. There is no 100% way to avoid cotton fever but you can reduce the likelihood of it happening to you. This is NOT a good reason to avoid filtering substances like heroin because the particulates they contain can be more harmful than cotton fever.
A Cooker is what the drugs are heated or mixed in. This is most often a spoon or something similar but can also be tin foil or a soda pop can. A tourniquet is used to tie the arm off and help locate a vein. When a medical elastic tourniquet is not available a belt or something similar may be used. A Rig/Point is the syringe/needle a person uses to inject a drug. Find more definitions by viewing the PDF.
Fentanyl is a strong, synthetic opioid pain medication. Fentanyl is used medically to treat pain. It comes in the form of patches on the skin and can also be injected, smoked, snorted or taken under the tongue sublingually. The most severe side effects include diarrhea, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, confusion, abdominal pain, fatigue, hallucinations, anxiety, depression, and overdose.
Heroin is a synthetic chemical made from morphine and its effects are similar only stronger. In its purest from heroin is a fine white powder. More often it will be found as a rose gray, brown or black powder in color. The color will depend on things added to it or “cut” with it, like sugar, caffeine, fentanyl or other poisons. Because these additional things added to heroin don’t fully dissolve they can block blood vessels and lead to infection or destruction of vital organs.
Indirect or “secondary” sharing occurs when people who inject drugs (PWID) use their own syringe/needle but share some, or all, of the other equipment used during the injection drug use process. Examples are cookers, cotton, and water. Although HIV dies soon after being exposed to air, hepatitis C lives for up to 6 weeks in dry blood on a dry surface.
Infective endocarditis or just endocarditis can be a life-threatening illness that affects people who inject drugs. Endocarditis occurs when there is a break in the skin when injecting drugs and bacteria or fungi enter the bloodstream. When the bacteria or fungi enter the bloodstream, it travels to the heart and causes an infection in the lining of the heart and heart valves. The infection can also spread to other organs such as the lungs, kidneys and the brain and could cause death. Early diagnosis and treatment will prevent severe heart damage and death.
Injection Technique Vein Care
Using the proper way to inject is important for vein care and to prevent infection. Scar tissue at the injection site and collapsed veins often result from repeated damage to a vein due to incorrect technique. Many people inject by inserting the needle all the way through the vein and then pulling back into it. This method, although effective at getting someone high, does severe damage to the vein by puncturing it in two places and increasing the likelihood it will collapse.
Medically Assisted Treatment
Medically Assisted Treatment is the use of medications in combination with counseling and other behavioral therapies. It is the number one medically recommended way to treat opioid or heroin addiction. Medication prescribed for MAT is often suboxone or methadone. These medical drugs block the opioid receptors and prevent physical addiction and cravings for opioids.
Methamphetamine or “meth” as its more commonly known, is a crystalline drug that people take by snorting, smoking or injecting it. It comes in a white or yellowish powder. Using meth leads to a strong sense of well-being, a rush of confidence, hyperactivity and energy. Meth is a street drug much like cocaine in that it’s a stimulant or “upper.” It is often used as a “party” drug.
Naloxone, often called “Narcan”, is a medication used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. It begins working within two minutes when administered through the vein and can also be administered nasally (through the nose). Its effects last up to 45 minutes. Among people who have no opioids in their system little to no side effects are experienced.
Opioids are medications and/or substances often used to relieve pain. Natural opioids are created from the poppy seed plant. Opioids include heroin, opium, morphine, codeine, fentanyl, carfentanyl, tramadol and many more. There are many potential side effects of short and long term opioid use. These include: nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, itching, constipation and respiratory depression.
When a person experiences an overdose it can be caused by either taking too much of a drug or having a mixture of many kinds of drugs that overwhelm their body causing it to shut down. Here are a few things you or someone you know can do to decrease the potential of overdose.
Vein & Artery Care
Veins and arteries carry blood throughout the body. Veins carry blood to the heart and arteries carry blood away from the heart. Blood in the veins is dark red and bright red in the artery. This is one of the best ways to know if you are in an artery or a vein. Knowing which one you are in is important. Injecting into an artery where blood is moving away from the heart will result in less of a high and increase risk seeking behavior for other drugs.
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