An introduction to Harm Reduction — What does the Research Say?by Future Historian March 24, 2022
Harm reduction measures are intended to reduce the negative consequences of certain behaviors, such as drug use and sex. This may be achieved without people having to stop doing these actions altogether. Harm reduction recognizes that some people might not be able or willing to stop, but they can still make changes to protect themselves and others. As of 2020, 86 different countries have at least one harm reduction program that is aimed at reducing the spread of infections from using dirty needles.
Some examples of Harm Reduction Programs
Needle-exchange programs help reduce the chances that people who use heroin and other substances will share needles. This can help stop the spread of infections such as HIV or hepatitis C, which can easily spread from person to person when needles are reused and contaminated with infected blood. Some needle-exchange programs also offer basic primary health care.
Supervised injection sites are a place where people can go to use substances in a safe and controlled way. These sites provide sterile equipment, information about substances, health care, and referrals to treatment. Supervised injection sites also offer opioid agonist therapy, which is a medical procedure that uses a harm-reducing opioid to help reduce cravings
Media campaigns are a way to tell drivers about the dangers of drunk driving. Most people who drink alcohol know about the dangers now. They are using safe ride techniques like ‘designated drivers’ and free taxicab programs to stop drunk-driving accidents.
Since some adolescents are going to have sex, many schools now provide safer sex education. This education includes teaching students how to use condoms and dental dams to protect themselves from getting pregnant or getting an STI.
The Research on Harm Reduction
For reasons that you might guess, harm reduction is a controversial policy. We used PubTrawlr to dig deep into the research to see what themes and trends have been converted over the past few years. Going back to 2018, we were able to identify 3,754 research articles on harm reduction.
There’s been a clear upward trend in the number of publications over the past few years.
And we can see that most of the work on harm reduction comes from the substance abuse world, with two journals comprising the bulk of the publications.
Word clouds are always popular. A word cloud is a way to show different words that are related to a topic. The bigger the word, the more often it is used.
But these are just the words. We can take a close look at how words and word strings related to one another. The figure below shows word correlations between key terms. We looked only for positive correlations (natch). Here we can see how different trends clustered. One fairly common pattern that we see is a cluster around methods in the upper left corner, and then the clustered related to content, in the middle.
Harm Reduction Topic Models
Using the MeSH vocabulary, we then used an LDA topic model to see what these article discussion. We can see that the highest # of articles talk about methamphetamine. Also, two of our top five topics deal with smoking cessation. Only one of the topics appears to be about sex work.
This figure is a UMAP distribution. We took the topics and tried to see how they might relate to one another globally.
And, then taking it one step further, we make a correlation graph to see how some of these topics related to one another. What is both surprising and *NOT* surprising is the central role that mental health symptoms play in this research.
We also plotted these topics over time. With smoking, it seems like maybe there was a special issue of two that is bumping up the numbers, but we’d have to look a little more deeply.
What’s in the news?
We then looked at what is in the public discourse on harm reduction…..and wow.
This topic was also clearly reflected in the LDA model.
What I find super fascinating is that a whole sector of behaviors that could benefit from harm reduction does not appear to be reflected in the literature. Should there be more work focused on harm reduction strategies for video games? It would certainly help with my 8-year old son!
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