News Flash


Posted on: May 6, 2023

What is harm reduction and why do we need it?

Narcan 900 x 700

There is a lot of information and discussion regarding harm reduction, naloxone, and overdose prevention programs and services – and all for a great reason. Harm reduction programs make our community safer, and they save lives.

There are many ways we practice harm reduction every day: wearing a helmet or seatbelt, using sunscreen, or using condoms. All of these actions reduce the potential negative results of some riskier activities. In today’s context, the goal of harm reduction is to reduce the unwanted consequences of drug use, including overdose and the spread of infectious disease.

Opioid overdose prevention tools like naloxone and fentanyl test strips have been widely discussed. Naloxone is a medication that blocks opioid receptors in the brain and saves the life of someone who is having an overdose to an opioid. Common opioids like morphine and oxycodone are readily available, and the increasing presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than morphine, has correspondingly increased overdoses and deaths. By using fentanyl test strips, a person can take additional protective steps to stay safe to prevent an overdose.

Harm reduction also addresses the need to destigmatize drug use. Someone who uses drugs is a person. Just like we have changed our language from “diabetic” to “person with diabetes,” this use of person-first language should apply to all people and all conditions. Rather than saying a drug user, addict or junkie, see each person as a person and use terminology like “person who uses drugs” or “a person with a substance use disorder.” By addressing the stigmatization of drug use, we can open the door for more people to engage with support services.

There has been a steep increase in mental health needs, including substance use (data). Locally, there are limited or inadequate resources to respond to the need. People who use drugs are often left out of many parts of society and may not be connected to supportive services. By offering a harm reduction program, San Juan Basin Public Health can meet people where they are, create a relationship and provide services that helps people stay safe. The centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that new users of syringe-service programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment programs than those who do not participate.

There are many benefits to harm reduction programs, including:

  • Reducing overdose risk and ultimately saving lives.
  • Building trusted relationships with people who use drugs that allows the program staff to connect people to treatment.
  • Saving money. Treating HIV and Hepatitis C, and the aftermath of drug overdoses is very expensive. By reducing the spread of disease, preventing overdoses and other drug associated injuries, the programs save public dollars.
  • Supporting public safety through getting used needles off the streets by offering disposal and assisting with cleanup.
  • Potential reduction in drug use.
  • Reducing HIV and viral hepatitis incidence.
  • Helping prevent health problems such as infections of the heart valves (endocarditis), serious skin infections and deep tissue abscesses.
  • Increasing trust so clients may start engaging with health care or behavioral health systems.
  • Helping clients access behavioral health care treatment.

San Juan Basin Public Health is proud to partner with La Plata County to start the first comprehensive harm reduction program in Southwest Colorado through this Opioid Risk Reduction program.

The Opioid Risk Reduction program is providing public monthly naloxone and fentanyl test strip distribution and training at the SJBPH office, with the next event from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. May 15. Those who need naloxone outside this time can reach out to SJBPH.

The ORR program will also open a comprehensive harm reduction site Fridays at Manna this summer. Services will include:

  • Overdose prevention tools – naloxone (opioid overdose reversal medication) and drug testing tools (fentanyl test strips).
  • Risk reduction education.
  • HIV and hepatitis C testing.
  • Safe sex supplies (condoms, lube).
  • Referrals and linkages to care for support services, medical treatment and behavioral health care.
  • Safer injection tools and tools like sterile needles, syringes and safe needle disposal.
  • Safer smoking tools.
  • Wound care supplies.

For more information about SJBPH’s Opioid Risk Reduction program, visit

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