City officials are launching a new harm reduction strategy in Manchester, the first of its kind in New Hampshire, designed to connect people struggling with addiction to available treatment and recovery options while removing the stigma that often accompanies these issues.

Funded by the Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief & Recovery, the public health nonprofit Makin’ It Happen (MIH) worked with city officials to develop the strategy.

The group Harm Reduction International (HRI) defines harm reduction as “policies, programs and practices that aim to minimize negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws.

According to the HRI website, “harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights — it focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that they stop using drugs as a precondition of support.”

“Although there is no singular definition, harm reduction is prospective risk reduction efforts through programs, policies, and practices,” said Brian Mooney, Community of Care manager at MIH. “Things like sunscreen, seatbelts, speed limits, wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are all forms of harm reduction.”

“A formal harm reduction strategy ensures that our community is addressing risk, taking action to minimize harm and prevent fatal overdoses as a key component of secondary prevention,” said Manchester Public Health Director Anna Thomas. “This call to action should challenge all communities to develop their own harm reduction strategies in partnership with their residents and resources. Our collective efforts should not only benefit the individuals we serve, but our full communities as well.”

In addition to new initiatives, the city and its partners will continue to practice existing components of harm reduction, including:

• Connecting people to primary care and mental health services;

• Giving individuals access to Naloxone (Narcan) and training to prevent overdose fatality;

• Offering screening and vaccinations for treatment of sexually transmitted diseases;

• Helping people enroll in insurance like Medicaid; giving them access to medical treatment;

• Referrals to substance use disorder treatment and recovery support;

• Public awareness and education to engage, educate and empower the public.

“I’m grateful for the collaboration between the City of Manchester and Makin’ It Happen to develop the first comprehensive harm reduction strategy in the State of New Hampshire,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “Through this comprehensive approach, we are working to improve overall community wellness and save lives.”

The Manchester harm reduction strategy can be found online at www.makinithappen.org.

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