Harm Reduction

Bicyclist sitting on grass wearing helmet

Rainbow Health uses a harm reduction approach to working with our clients. What this means is that we affirm individuals who may want our services but are not interested in an abstinence-only model.

What is Harm Reduction?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas that are aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use and higher risk sexual behavior.

Harm Reduction is also a social justice movement that respects the rights of people who use drugs and engage in higher risk sexual behavior.

Principles of Harm Reduction:

  • Accept that drug use and sexual activity are parts of our world.

  • Minimize the potentially harmful effects of drug use and sexual activity rather than simply ignore or condemn them.

  • Understand that drug use and sexual behaviors are complex and that some ways of using drugs and having sex are safer than others.

  • Recognize that abstinence-based programs don’t work for everyone. Meet clients where they are at and let them set their own goals.

  • Offer services and resources in a non-judgmental way to people who use drugs and engage in higher risk sexual behavior.

  • Empower and affirm the person who is seeking support. Treat them as a person who happens to use drugs and/or engage in higher risk sexual behavior. These behaviors are not their whole identity.

  • Recognize the impacts of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination, and other social inequalities. These factors can make people vulnerability to drug/sex-related harm and also affect their capacity to deal with that harm. Everyone’s story is different.

  • Don’t attempt to minimize or ignore the real and tragic harm and danger associated with lawful and unlawful drug use and/or higher risk sexual activity. Tell them you care and want to see them safe and happy.

For more information about our Syringe Exchange and Naloxone programs visit our Mainline Syringe Exchange page.

For information about Behavioral Health or Chemical Health Assessments please visit the Rainbow Health Therapy and Counseling page.


This site contains HIV prevention messages that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Since HIV infection is spread primarily through sexual practices or by sharing needles, prevention messages and programs presented on this website may address these topics. If you are not seeking such information or may be offended by such materials, please exit this website.