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Community Behavioral Health Services

Harm Reduction Policy


On September 5, 2000, the San Francisco Health Commission unanimously passed a resolution adopting a Harm Reduction Policy for Substance Abuse, STD and HIV treatment and prevention services, and/or programs that serve drug users and abusers in their programs.

In response to the resolution the Department, in collaboration with an Oversight Committee, has developed a policy that will be implemented. The policy will require programs to:

      1. Address in their program design and objectives how they will provide harm reduction treatment options, and 
      2. Develop harm reduction guidelines.


Harm reduction is a public health philosophy, which promotes methods of reducing the physical, social, emotional, and economic harms associated with drug and alcohol use and other harmful behaviors on individuals and their community. Harm reduction methods and treatment goals are free of judgment or blame and directly involve the client in setting their own goals.

Guiding Principles:

  • Clients are responsive to culturally competent, non-judgmental services, delivered in a manner that demonstrates respect for individual dignity, personal strength, and self-determination.
  • Service providers are responsible to the wider community for delivering interventions which attempt to reduce the economic, social and physical consequences of drug- and alcohol-related harm and harms associated with other behaviors or practices that put individuals at risk.
  • Because those engaged in unsafe health practices are often difficult to reach through traditional service venues, the service continuum must seek creative opportunities and develop new strategies to engage, motivate, and intervene with potential clients.
  • Comprehensive treatments need to include strategies that reduce harm for those clients who are unable or unwilling to modify their unsafe behavior.
  • Relapse or periods of return to unsafe health practices should not be equated with or conceptualized as “failure of treatment”.
  • Each program within a system of comprehensive services can be strengthened by working collaboratively with other programs in the system.
  • People change in incremental ways and must be offered a range of treatment outcomes in a continuum of care from reducing unsafe practices to abstaining from dangerous behavior.