How do drug users define their progress in harm reduction programs? Qualitative research to develop user-generated outcomes
1 New York Harm Reduction Educators, Inc (NYHRE), 903 Dawson St., Bronx, New York 10459
2 Academy for Educational Development (AED), 100 Fifth Ave., New York, New York 10011
Harm Reduction Journal 2004, 1:8 doi:10.1186/1477-7517-1-8Published: 26 August 2004
Harm reduction is a relatively new and controversial model for treating drug users, with little formal research on its operation and effectiveness. In order to advance the study of harm reduction programs and our understanding of how drug users define their progress, qualitative research was conducted to develop outcomes of harm reduction programming that are culturally relevant, incremental, (i.e., capable of measuring change), and hierarchical (i.e., capable of showing how clients improve over time).
The study used nominal group technique (NGT) to develop the outcomes (phase 1) and focus group interviews to help validate the findings (phase 2). Study participants were recruited from a large harm-reduction program in New York City and involved approximately 120 clients in 10 groups in phase 1 and 120 clients in 10 focus groups in phase 2.
Outcomes of 10 life areas important to drug users were developed that included between 10 to 15 incremental measures per outcome. The outcomes included ways of 1) making money; 2) getting something good to eat; 3) being housed/homeless; 4) relating to families; 5) getting needed programs/benefits/services; 6) handling health problems; 7) handling negative emotions; 8) handling legal problems; 9) improving oneself; and 10) handling drug-use problems. Findings also provided insights into drug users' lives and values, as well as a window into understanding how this population envisions a better quality of life. Results challenged traditional ways of measuring drug users based solely on quantity used and frequency of use. They suggest that more appropriate measures are based on the extent to which drug users organize their lives around drug use and how much drug use is integrated into their lives and negatively impacts other aspects of their lives.
Harm reduction and other programs serving active drug users and other marginalized people should not rely on institutionalized, provider-defined solutions to problems in living faced by their clients.