The first New Zealand Harm Reduction Conference was held in Christchurch in mid-October. The conference was timed to celebrate 30 years of Needle Exchange in New Zealand, arguably the main reason New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of HIV prevalence of people injecting drugs in the world, 0.2% vs 13%.

Harm reduction began as a pragmatic non-judgemental approach to recognising and providing information about how to reduce the risks associated with substance use, acknowledging that stopping substance use is not a realistic option for many people who choose to use substances. Over time harm reduction approaches and strategies have developed to address other potentially risky health behaviours.

It can be considered that the Equally Well movement is, at heart, a harm reduction approach to address the harms that contribute to the premature mortality and excessive burden of physical health problems for people with mental health and addiction issues.

It can be considered that the Equally Well movement is, at heart, a harm reduction approach to address the harms that contribute to the premature mortality and excessive burden of physical health problems for people with mental health and addiction issues. Equally Well has championed pragmatic strategies such as regular metabolic screening, BBV screening, medication reviews and the promotion of alternatives to medication.

Helen Lockett and Ashley Koning, of the Equally Well backbone team, presented on the Equally Well collaborative at the Harm Reduction Conference, taking the opportunity to highlight some of the practical harm reduction strategies that are particularly relevant for people who use substances, not just those accessing addiction services. These include: prescription of Thiamine (Vitamin B1), Magnesium and Zinc for people who regularly drink hazardous amounts of alcohol, screening and brief interventions for hazardous substance use in all health settings, testing for and treating Hepatitis C in all health services, promoting and subsidising ‘vaping’ as an alternative to smoking tobacco, and supporting existing harm reduction strategies such as needle exchanges and pill testing.

It was great to have the opportunity to present at this important event and to increase awareness of Equally Well issues.

Written by Ashley Koning.