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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.
Harm Reduction – Alcohol
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.
Harm Reduction – Definitions
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.
Harm Reduction – Indirect sharing
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.
Harm Reduction – Abscess
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.
Harm Reduction – Cotton Fever
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.
Harm Reduction – Overdose
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.