Your journey towards wellbeing is personal.
For some people, the journey may lead to abstinence or sobriety; for others it may not. No matter where you are on your path, there are ways of using substances that can be safer than others.
This is harm reduction: an approach to substance use that prioritizes improving health and lessening the harms of drug use. Harm reduction includes public health programs and tactics that are designed to prevent overdoses, limit the spread of infectious diseases, and support the physical and mental wellbeing of people who use drugs.
Avoid using alone
If you’re going to use substances, have someone with you. That way, if you lose consciousness or experience medical issues, there is someone available to get help.
If you don’t have anyone with you and you’re going to use, reach out to Never Use Alone, a judgment-free hotline that connects people with a volunteer who can take action in the event of an overdose. Additionally, download the Brave app, which connects you to a caring supporter, wherever and whenever you use drugs.
Take it slow and use less
Even if you’ve taken the same substance in the past, your body may respond differently this time, or the potency or mix of substances may be different (even if outwardly the substance looks visually similar). Use a smaller amount than you think you need, and don’t take it all at once.
Use test strips
Fentanyl is now found in everything from heroin and cocaine to fake prescription pills. Even a small amount of fentanyl can cause an overdose, and nearly 60% of fake prescription pills that were seized by the DEA and tested in 2022 contained a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Test strips can help you determine whether the substance you’re planning to use contains fentanyl. Test strips are fast, easy to use, and cost about $1. Knowing whether a substance contains fentanyl can help you make informed decisions around how or whether to use the substance and help you prevent a possible overdose.
Fentanyl test strips are not legal in every state. Check if fentanyl test strips are legal in your state.
Carry an opioid overdose reversal medication
Opioid overdose reversal medications, such as naloxone and nalmefene, are safe, legal medications that can reverse an opioid overdose in minutes.
On pharmacy shelves, you might see naloxone available as Narcan or RiVive. Next Distro supplies free naloxone by mail in many states. Learn how to use naloxone to save a life. With a prescription, additional opioid overdose reversal medications are available, like Kloxxado, Zimhi and OPVEE.
Opioid overdose reversal medications are also available through community health organizations.
Carry an opioid overdose reversal medication with you if you use opioids or you want to help protect others.
Talk with others who have been where you are
If you want to change your patterns around drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to do it alone. Support groups and community organizations can help you connect with people who understand your life, your culture, and the challenges you’re facing. It’s normal to feel nervous or vulnerable when asking for help, but don’t let that hold you back.
Visit the NEXT Social Support Guide to find an in-person or online support group that feels right for you.
Locate syringe exchanges and safer consumption sites
If you inject drugs, syringe exchange programs (also called needle exchange programs) and safer consumption sites can help you protect yourself while using. Syringe exchange programs help people avoid contracting communicable illnesses like HIV or hepatitis from used or shared syringes. At safer use sites, trained staff watch over people while they use. They help prevent overdoses, and provide help if necessary. Syringe exchanges and safer use sites (currently available in New York City and coming soon to Rhode Island) can also connect you to other resources in your area. Find syringe exchange programs and safer use sites near you.
Check if there’s a harm reduction vending machine near you
In some states, community health organizations are making harm reduction supplies available for free through harm reduction vending machines. These vending machines dispense products that help people minimize the risks associated with drug use, including naloxone, test strips, sterile syringes, and safer sex kits, along with educational information.
Consider medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD)
If you experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings because you are trying to cut back or stop using substances, talk with a healthcare provider. FDA-approved medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are used to help people on their opioid recovery journeys. Learn how medications for opioid use disorder work.
Black Harm Reduction Network
This group is working to center racial equity in harm reduction across drug policy, public health, and criminal justice.
National Harm Reduction Coalition
This organization works to heal the harms caused by racialized drug policies. Explore the Harm Reduction Resource Center to learn more about safer drug use, overdose prevention, and related topics.
Harm Reduction Works (HRW)
HRW is a free network of support groups that are open to anyone who is looking to reduce the harm of their substance use, or anyone who is supporting others using substances, including family and loved ones.
SAMHSA’s Harm Reduction Framework
Explore harm reduction principles, evidence-based best practices, the history of harm reduction in the United States, and more.