Harm reduction

Harm reduction methods help limit the negative impacts of substance use disorder. Like wearing a helmet while biking or a seatbelt while driving, harm reduction practices lower the chances of disease or death without the requirement that people stop using completely. Watch this video by Dr. Keri Hager to learn more about the principles of harm reduction.

Types of harm reduction

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines naloxone as a medication to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. It can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped from an opioid or heroin overdose. The brand name for naloxone is Narcan®, but it is available in various generic forms including injectable and nasal. Naloxone works temporarily to save someone’s life until they receive medical care. It wears off more quickly than an opioid, so even if someone’s opioid overdose was reversed, they can re-overdose.

Anyone in Minnesota can get naloxone (Narcan) at most pharmacies without a prescription from their doctor. This Minnesota Department of Health has compiled a list of pharmacies that distribute naloxone and an online naloxone locator. As of 2014, Steve's Law passed by the Minnesota Legislature allows law enforcement and the public to access and administer naloxone to save lives. The Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Law sets forth a legal duty to provide reasonable assistance to people who ‘...are exposed to or have suffered grave physical harm”. The law protects those who help someone during an overdose from civil liability for negligence (being personally responsible in a legal way)  for voluntarily providing emergency care. If you need step-by-step assistance administering naloxone call the Minnesota Poison Control System at 1-800-222-1222.

If you would like to learn how to administer naloxone, take a free1-hour naloxone mini-course

Fentanyl Test Strips

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more powerful than heroin, is the main drug involved in overdose deaths in the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, synthetic opioids are developed in a laboratory setting. However, the potency of fentanyl means that even a little of it can cause death. Since 2015, the number of drug overdose deaths related to synthetic opioids (mainly fentanyl) has dramatically increased. More than 50,000 people died as the result of overdosing on synthetic opioids like fentanyl in 2020 alone. In 2019, synthetic opioids were related to 55% of drug overdose deaths in Minnesota.

Fentanyl test strips (FTS) can help prevent drug overdose deaths by identifying substances that contain fentanyl before they are used. Knowing that a substance contains fentanyl could encourage people to follow safer drug practices as many people don't even know they are getting an opioid/fentanyl since it is laced in drugs of abuse that are stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine. They may use less of the substance, have naloxone nearby, or ask a friend to supervise while they are using. In a 2019 study, the odds of drug-related behavior change were five times greater when people received a positive FTS result compared to those who did not.

FTS are legal to have, use and share in Minnesota. NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, the Steve Rummler HOPE Network and Rainbow Health are Minnesota-based organizations that provide FTS. Check out the following video to learn how to use FTS.