Skip to main content

Substance use management: a harm reduction-principled approach to assisting the relief of drug-related problems

Abstract: Disease (particularly HIV) has increased our motivation to reconsider how the current help system deals with drug-related problems. A more concrete focus on disease prevention as an additional goal has, for many, lead to a reevaluation of the goals of drug help work. Such a critical examination shows how much there is to improve within the system even in the absence of blood borne disease. Integrating the heart of harm reduction–respecting work on any positive change as a person defines it for his/herself–into treatment fashions a health sensitive alternative to the predominant practice of abstinence-only assistance for the relief of drug problems.

This new approach is called substance use management (SUM), as it no longer requires abstinence but instead focuses on a range of options for improvements while still including abstinence among the possible self-selected outcomes. SUM is suggested as a framework for change within the treatment system that would maximize treatment’s constructive impact, cost-effectiveness and maturation as a distinct discipline that can appropriately attract support and gain stature for making society healthier. This article describes a formalized system for applying some of the main principles of harm reduction within the treatment system. Viable options for a SUM treatment focus are suggested herein as well as a critical process, based on respect and collaboration, for use with these options.

Download article View on PubMed