Posted in Advocacy, sobriety

Harm Reduction Introduction

As you may know if you follow this blog, I am sober having struggled with addiction as a teenager. It has been the most amazing thing in my life, but I absolutely know and understand that it is not the path for many or even an option. Even if sobriety is something that would work for someone there can be many reasons why it isn’t possible – namely the inability to access detox units to help them get clean safely, or community resources. For some it can be dangerous to try and get clean without these aids. And I absolutely do not look down on anyone who drinks, uses or relies on substances in any way. 

Who are we to say that prescription use of ADHD meds is different to someone using illegal  substances to get through a day? Who are we to decide what drugs are morally correct or not? No drug – prescription or not – is inherently good or bad. Of course addiction can have devastating effects, I know that all too well. But not everyone’s usage, options, or actions are the same, and it is always a personal journey of how someone uses or decides to get clean. 

You may or may not agree with this, but I encourage you to open your mind to an understanding that drugs are not inherently evil, and there is not an inherently superior drug. Nor are the people that use drugs in different ways inherently good or bad. Some are of course inflicted with the pernicious disease of addiction – and that is devastating. I know and have watched that first hand; it is an awful awful disease that destroys the lives of those affected and those surrounding them. But it is each person’s journey to travel; all we can do is provide support. And just like not everyone who drinks is an alcoholic, not everyone who uses is an addict. The thing that can help all drug users is harm reduction information. 

Whether you self medicate, are struggling with addiction, like to go out sometimes, harm reduction is really important. It takes as much of the physical (and mental) risk out of using as possible. It is knowledge which can be applied to help keep you and others safe. Being informed about drugs is really important. And I know in moments of need, desperation or excitement we may not remember or be able to apply all this information – but I know from personal experience having it in the back of your mind really does make a difference, both personally and in order to help others. You never know when it might come in handy, even if you don’t use personally. 

But harm reduction should also refer to policies that aim to help those using drugs (including those with addiction) rather than criminalising and stigmatising them. 

So here is some very basic harm reduction information to be aware of, with some much better websites linked below. I personally really like Frank – it gives a clear breakdown of names of different drugs, how they feel, how long their effects last, risks etc. It’s super useful to know of and be able to share with others when they have questions. 

  • Naloxone – Naloxone goes by a few different names including Narcan, Prenoxad and Nyxoid. It’s an emergency antidote that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose (from heroin, fentanyl, codeine, methadone, morphine etc). It is widely available to get in the US and is becoming easier to get in the UK (now available as an over the counter medicine). It is lifesaving, a very good thing to carry around with you especially if you are around people who are at risk of an overdose. You can get Naloxone in the US for free here, along with free fentanyl test strips to make sure you’re not being spiked or your drugs cut with it. For more UK information click here, or type naloxone and your area into google
  • Overdose signs – Knowing the signs of an overdose is also extremely important, so you can know if to use naloxone, call for help etc. Here are some signs of opioid overdose: pinpoint pupils, blue lips, pale skin, shallow breathing, snoring, unresponsiveness. Cocaine overdose signs and warning signs: elevated heart rate, rise in body temperature, pain in chest, nausea and vomiting, severe panicking, delirium, irregular heart rhythm, seizures. You can google the overdose symptoms of any drugs that may be more relevant to you or those you know to be informed. Bottom line is if you know or suspect someone has taken drugs and are now suffering from severe physical symptoms, it’s time to call for help 
  • Calling an ambulance – It’s important to know that if you call an ambulance for a suspected drug overdose, they are not going to call the police. In almost every case they will only call the police if there is another reason to warrant this – usually if the ambulance crew is being threatened. Their job and main concern is to treat the overdose. Saving a life should always be the top priority for someone so please please do not hesitate to call for help – you can find more information on what to do in the case of a suspected overdose here
  • Learn the recovery position – Honestly this is useful for all areas of life so just do it 
  • Needle Safety – you’ve probably all heard about not sharing needles. What you might not know is that many areas in the UK and US offer services such as needle exchange programmes to help safely and legally supply clean needles. If this is relevant to you it’s worth looking into 
  • Taking MDMA – Molly is a popular party drug, but it is getting stronger. I know we can all have some idea that something bad could never happen to us, and it’s true you are more likely to be ok than not. But it’s worth mitigating the risks. If you’re taking ecstasy it’s best to take a quarter – half at most – of a pill first, or dabbing a bit of powder to start feeling effects before taking more. You may find it’s enough. Also many people don’t realise that drinking any fluids (including water) can be dangerous on ecstasy because it can cause the body to release a hormone that stops it from making urine. Users should drink no more than a pint of water or non-alcoholic drink per hour. 
  • Mixing – Mixing drugs without knowing how they interact is one of the most risky things with using – including drinking alcohol while using other drugs. Before you mix drugs just have a quick look to see how they interact. Frank has really clear information on mixing below each drug so it’s a quick way to find out if you’re safe or not 
  • Drug testing kits – Buying illegal drugs means not knowing if you’re getting what you think you’re getting. Even if you’re buying from someone you have bought from before, you don’t know what you’re getting for sure. But don’t worry! There are loads of drug testing kits available to see if your drugs have been cut or are what you think they are. Just look up what you need to test and you’re likely to find results; local drug services may also offer free testing kits, and in the US you can get the fentanyl test strips for free from End Overdoses as mentioned above

So there’s some very brief and basic information for everyone. You probably know what’s most relevant to you, so here’s some great links to explore with way more specific information. Stay safe and full of love! Xxx


A young person trying to make the tiniest difference in the world, and finding my voice

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