Harm Reduction Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles

Brief History

Harm reduction is a domain that focuses on reducing the negative impacts and side effects of substance use. The practice began in the 1980s in Liverpool and the USA mainly due to an HIV emergency (Des Jarlais, 2017). Contaminated injections increased the risk of transmitting HIV among people who inject drugs (PWID), creating the need for harm reduction. Therefore, the first harm reduction program was established to provide PWID with new syringes and needles.

However, these programs faced fierce opposition as various groups differed on the ethics of harm reduction (Des Jarlais, 2017). For example, the federal government opposed the syringe exchange program internally and internationally for many years, leaving local and state governments to fund and coordinate their initiatives. Nevertheless, scientific research and activism supported harm reduction and convinced many opponents to change sides (Des Jarlais, 2017). While activists led in the forefront to rally support for harm reduction programs, scientific researchers provided credible data to support the course.

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During HIV emergence, the use of psychoactive drugs was demonized while minority races using them were stigmatized. Abstinence stood out as the best treatment as drug users were hated and feared in society. The first harm reduction pilot program was conducted in 1988 in New York and yielded positive results (Des Jarlais, 2017). Syringe exchange studies reported more PWID joining long-term treatment initiatives, lower risky behavior, fewer HBV incidences, and reducing HIV transmission. All the research projects of the late 1980s were privately funded by organizations such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) (Des Jarlais, 2017). Although harm reduction programs faced opposition, supportive scientific data have popularized them in the twenty-first century.

Careers’ Contribution to society

Harm reduction careers are research-based and practical jobs in applied settings. These careers have made enormous contributions to society by reducing harm to people who use substances. Research-based careers were among the earliest to impact society by changing the mainstream demonization of drug users. Harm reduction researchers proved that drug abuse and addiction are medical problems rather than signs of morality failures (Des Jarlais, 2017).

Research has also continuously created and improved interventions for various psychoactive drugs, beginning with the syringe exchange service. Other programs and interventions availed through studies include case management, nicotine replacement therapy, safe injection and consumption sites, and opioid substitution. These research findings have enabled medical centers to offer practical treatment options to drug users in addition to abstinence, allowing people who are not interested in abstaining to lead relatively stable lives.

Careers in applied settings are critical in getting drug users to enroll in programs. Harm reduction workers meet with patients to educate, train, and offer assistance as may be necessary. By connecting the drug users to intervention centers, they kick start a treatment process that could see many of the users enroll in long-term treatment plans. Therefore, these careers help society by stabilizing the lives of substance users and supporting them through the treatment periods.

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Findings, Insights, and Interventions

Harm reduction has achieved tremendous results through various findings, insights, and interventions. Syringe services are the leading intervention that reduces transmission of blood bone illnesses and infections among PWID. Findings show that availing sterile syringes to this group reduces hepatitis C and HIV infections by up to 50 percent (Platt et al., 2018). Syringe access centers also offer connection, and respite to drug users, and link them to other resources, including drug treatment, housing, and health care (Platt et al., 2018). While syringe exchange programs do not aim at reducing drug use, they are effective in improving PWID’s wellbeing and health status.

Harm reduction has led to treatment plans such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and opioid substitution. Although these are not aimed at reducing harm, their existence emanates from the general acceptance of the treatment of addiction. NRT helps smokers to quit by replacing tobacco with nicotine products and gradually lowering the amount to reduce withdrawal symptoms (Giles, Gartner, & Boyd, 2018). Opioid substitution therapy (OST) replaces the addiction with buprenorphine or methadone to reduce injecting of drugs and encourage cessation. OST is a common treatment option for PWID and reduces HIV infections among this group by 54 percent (Platt et al., 2018). Support of these programs is the result of harm reduction research.

An important insight resulting from the harm reduction of people is that drug users have human rights. The demonization of psychoactive drug use reduced the users into lesser humans, criminalizing drug possession and treating them as delinquents for that sole reason. The people working in harm reduction research have produced enough evidence to convince the world that drug addicts need treatment more than punishment. One effect of this insight is the existence of treatment options for criminals using drugs. The judicial system incorporates treatment centers that rehabilitate substance users before their incarceration (Platt et al., 2018). These treatment programs have helped to reshape the lives of many juveniles and young adults who engage in criminal behavior due to drug use.

People who work or plan to work in harm reduction have to possess certain qualifications. Most certificates, degrees, and graduate programs are based on social and health services, including social work, adult education, human services, community development, mental health and addictions, and psychology. Some positions require only a high school degree with experience in mental health and addiction support. Others call for a graduate certificate from a community college, a diploma, or a bachelor’s degree.

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The Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is necessary for most senior positions in harm reduction (Archibald & Estreet, 2017). Harm reduction specialists must have a Social Service Work diploma, usually known as an SSW. Computer literacy and a driving license are also important and common requirements for most harm reduction posts. Computer skills requirements might be more significant for senior positions due to the need for data analysis, cost management, and reporting. A driving license, and sometimes a personal vehicle, are crucial for workers who visit patients or do other fieldwork.

Although prerequisites for each course differ from one college to another, there are basic requirements. Individuals seeking to enroll for a BSW must have completed the SSW diploma or other prosocial work major requirements because BSW holders are considered majors in the field (Archibald & Estreet, 2017). As such, each college has a set of courses and credits to complete for all the prosocial work major work. Admission for the SSW diploma requires graduation from high school and over 60% score on English Studies 12 or its equivalent (Archibald & Estreet, 2017). Again, these prerequisites might have slight differences between colleges. In addition, some credits are transferrable between colleges and universities to ease the burden as one progresses to higher learning levels.

Personal Qualities for Successful Work

Working in the harm reduction domain means interacting with individuals, groups, or families dealing with substance use and its effects or causes, including violence, unstable emotions and behavior, homelessness, and crisis. Therefore, workers are exposed to stressful conditions, illnesses, and unsanitary environments (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2017). People working in the harm reduction domain also form part of multidisciplinary teams that include healthcare providers, law enforcers, and community partners. Such a work environment requires specific personal qualities for successful careers. Some of these qualities include stress and time management, communication, collaboration, presentation, and interpersonal skills (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2017).

When interacting with clients in crisis, workers must monitor and manage their stress levels to ensure effective support and healthy interactions. They must adhere to health and safety protocols to prevent infections from the unsanitary conditions where clients live (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2017). Presentation skills are useful in training clients and delivering reports to supervisors. Interpersonal, communication and collaboration qualities help workers to create and sustain healthy relationships across disciplines and ranks. Some positions require negotiation and advocacy skills as workers serve as clients’ advocates to negotiate for resources.

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Harm reduction faced opposition during its infant years but has gained support worldwide as the human rights of drug users are recognized. Harm reduction researchers proved that drug abuse and addiction are medical problems rather than signs of morality failures that lead to continuous creation and improvement of interventions for various psychoactive drugs. Education programs for careers in harm reduction are in social services, community development, and psychology. Academic qualifications include high school graduation, SSW, and BSW among others. Since workers are exposed to stressful conditions, illnesses, and unsanitary environments and work with cross-disciplinary teams, their qualities include stress and time management, communication, collaboration, presentation, and interpersonal skills.


Archibald, P., & Estreet, A. (2017). Utilization of the interprofessional education, practice, and research model in HBCU social work education. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 27(5), 450-462. Web.

Chenoweth, L., & McAuliffe, D. (2017). The road to social work & human service practice. Cengage AU.

Des Jarlais, D. C. (2017). Harm reduction in the USA: The research perspective and an archive to David Purchase. Harm Reduction Journal, 14(1), 1-7. Web.

Giles, M. L., Gartner, C., & Boyd, M. A. (2018). Smoking and HIV: what are the risks and what harm reduction strategies do we have at our disposal? AIDS research and therapy, 15(1), 1-5. Web.

Platt, L., Minozzi, S., Reed, J., Vickerman, P., Hagan, H., French, C., Jordan, A., Degenhardt, L., Hope, V., Hutchinson, S., & Hickman, M. (2018). Needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution therapy for preventing HCV transmission among people who inject drugs: findings from a Cochrane Review and meta‐analysis. Addiction, 113(3), 545-563. Web.

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