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Creating safer campuses and communities

The Issue

Many campuses and communities approach drug use with a “just say no” attitude, believing that shutting down conversations around alcohol and other drugs will be sufficient to reduce harm. Instead, the lack of information and punitive policies has exacerbated harms related to drug use. Young people may overdose, become injured, or have very negative experiences when using substances because of a lack of drug education. Others don’t call for help when their friend has overdosed because they are unfamiliar with their school’s Good Samaritan Policy and are worried about getting in trouble. Still others could easily save a life if they were trained in how to administer naloxone. All of these things are examples of harm reduction policies and programs that can create safer campuses and communities.

SSDP’s Position

Harm reduction is any action which reduces the risk of having a negative experience. With regard to drugs, it is a set of practical strategies aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use, and incorporates a spectrum of strategies from safer use to abstinence.

Harm reduction is also considered a social justice movement based on the belief that people who use drugs have rights. Because true harm reduction should be designed to meet people where they are, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction. Rather, harm reduction should be based on the individual and community’s needs. Harm reduction posits, “Any positive change”, meaning any positive change one makes, however small, can be celebrated in the interest of empowering more positive changes.


The harm reduction movement began in the 1980’s as a response to health crises in the injection drug use community. Today, the movement is about protecting the rights of people who use drugs and marginalized communities in a variety of ways.

Strategies for Change

Harm reduction based policies can be implemented at the campus, local, or state level and should include a public opinion and education campaign.

Public opinion and education

Devote a chapter meeting to educate chapter members and the community on harm reduction and what they can do to advocate for harm reduction. Consider:

Write a Letter To the Editor (LTE) about the importance of harm reduction. One of the easiest ways to get press is to write a Letter To the Editor (LTE). The Media Awareness Project is a clearinghouse for LTEs about the Drug War, and has a section specifically for Harm Reduction. It is user-friendly, and offers tips on how to write a LTE.

Invite a Harm Reduction Expert to your campus. Build support and awareness of the issue by inviting a speaker to your campus. Below are some steps to a successful event:

Campus Change

Persuade Student Government, Administrators, and Faculty Government to Support Harm Reduction Policies and Programs. There are many harm reduction policies, practices, and programs that your chapter can advocate for on campus. Resolutions can be a powerful way to exemplify student support for these initiatives to community members, media, and legislators and can be helpful for when SSDP members meet with stakeholders. To lobby your Student Government and Faculty Government:

Some examples of policies:

Some examples of programs:

State/Municipal/Federal Reform



Local Speakers and Organizations

The Harm Reduction Coalition maintains a current list of harm reduction service providers. Additionally, SSDP maintains a list of recommended speakers.