Module 6: how drugs work: facilitator's guide

11.5 Specific harms related to drugs and drug use

Page last updated: 2004

Group activity
Harms related to injecting drug use
Strategies to reduce harm
Case study - Matt

Group activity

The template below will help you identify possible harms related to particular drugs and harm reduction strategies that can be used to reduce these harms. One example has been provided.

In groups, use the template to create a list focusing on drugs that young people in your area commonly use.

Template: drug, drug-related harm and harm education strategies

  • Name of drug:
  • Drug-related harm:
  • Harm education strategies:
For example:
  • Name of drug:Ecstasy
    • Drug-related harm: Dehydration
    • Harm education strategies: Drinking water

Harms related to injecting drug use

Most young people do not inject drugs. However, there are harms related to injecting drug use that it is important to be familiar with. These include:
  • fatal overdose due to respiratory depression (a large dose of CNS depressants can cause the person's brain to 'forget' to breathe)

  • blood-borne viruses (e.g. HIV and Hepatitis C) spread by sharing needles or other injecting equipment with an infected person

  • other medical problems (e.g. skin sores, bruising, blood clots, blood infections) caused by injecting practices, such as poor hygiene and overusing the same injecting site.
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Strategies to reduce harm

Some strategies that reduce the harm related to injecting drug use include:
  • Following infection control procedures

  • Never re-using syringes or needles

  • Using sterile 'fit kits' provided by health services and selected chemists. (The fit kit provides injecting drug users with sterilised needles and a disposal receptacle to reduce risk of stab wounds to others. The kit is available through hospitals at no cost.)

  • Disposing of needles in sterile bins.

Case study - Matt

Matt is a 16-year-old male in Year 11 at school. His parents have recently called the school counsellor, concerned because he is drinking large amounts of alcohol on weekends with his friends. More recently he has begun arriving home early on Sunday morning (after a Saturday night out) extremely intoxicated, to the point where he vomits and has difficulty speaking or even walking.

A few weeks ago, Matt arrived home later than usual, minus his eyebrows because they were shaved off by his mates after he 'passed out' after drinking too much. Although Matt's parents accept 'heavy drinking' as a relatively normal part of growing up, they are concerned that Matt's drinking is happening more frequently. They also suspect that he may be using other substances as well. Whenever they have tried to discuss their concerns with Matt, or impose limits on his going out, he becomes extremely agitated and tells his parents that they don't understand and that they are being over protective. Matt believes that he is just doing what his mates do and that there is nothing wrong with his behaviour.

His teachers have noticed no recent decline in his grades. Although Matt has never been a top student, he has consistently obtained B/C grades and has always planned on going to university to study business. Indeed, as long as his current grades are maintained, he may achieve this goal (although in order to do so it is important that his grades do not fall).

Task - workplace learning activity

Question - What sort of harm might Matt be experiencing from the effects of alcohol?

Question - If the school counsellor adopted a harm reduction approach, what might they recommend to Matt and his parents?

Question - What activities could cause harm to young people that you work with?

Question - Reflect on any harm reduction strategies you currently use in your work with young people. Do you think these strategies work well for these young people? Consider the reasons for your response.

Question - What research harm reduction strategies or services do other agencies in your area use in their work with young people?