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Living harm reduction AND recovery

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SupportI was moved and inspired by an interview with a harm reduction activist who is also in recovery. Kevin Jaffray is quizzed by writer and broadcaster Ruth Jacobs. Using his own experience as illustration, he reveals insights and reflections on the relationship between harm reduction and recovery. And he does it with passion. Answering criticisms that harm reduction might just enable users to keep on using he says:

Speaking as someone who came into abstinence kicking and screaming – thankfully with my health intact – after a number of chaotic years in addiction, I have to say with my hand on my heart that I would not have got this far if I had not spent a number of years being educated around the risks of my chosen lifestyle and gently guided through the years of chaos with a non-judgemental and non-enforced guiding hand of harm reduction.

For him, harm reduction was not only helpful, it was essential:

Those who reached out to me during that time carried me through some of the most destructive years of my life and kept me safe when no one else took the time to care. So being alive and healthy is actually quite a significant positive outcome in my opinion.

And keeping up the theme I’ve touched on frequently of trying to help service users achieve their goals, he says:

…we do not shoot our wounded; we care for them and nurse them back to health or recovery. No matter what it takes or how long it takes, regardless of who they are or what they stand for, we overlook the divide and provide the care needed at a pace that supports the individual safely and humanely back to a place where they feel comfortable with their life and its surroundings.

And he’s really clear on helping people move forward safely:

For some this may not mean complete abstinence, and who am I to judge their preference? My aim is to support them in any way I can to achieve whatever it is they set as their goal in the safest way possible.

Jaffray is motivated to reduce suffering and loneliness in those with addictions, because he remembers those feelings himself. He is actively involved in supporting people to abstinent recovery and he is actively involved in harm reduction delivery and in activism. He’s not blind to the tensions between recovery activists and harm reductionists and also touches on other controversies frankly. But he has answers too. Practical ones. What can individuals do to make things better?

Support your local mutual aid groups; if there aren’t any, think about starting one up. Join online forums and add your voice to the already existing campaigns. Run events in your area. Get out there in your community and talk to people, find out what’s missing. Look for the deficits and fill them. Your community can always be improved. Asset map your community, don’t try and reinvent the wheel, just build more spokes from what is already there.

It’s a good interview and an honest one at that. Read the whole thing here.

    6 Responses to "Living harm reduction AND recovery"
    1. Innocent Abroad says:

      From what’s quoted here, I’d say it was an extremely dangerous interview – equating the demand for total abstinence with “shooting our wounded” flies in the face of all clinical evidence and abstinence-based recovery experience. How many practising addicts and alcoholics will read it as a license to continue drinking and/or using? And how many of those will die?

      If he’d said “we should not force people into abstinence before they are ready” (for instance by insisting that they quit using nicotine at the same time as they give up on other substances – hey, why not caffeine as well?) then the analogy with the wounded might have made sense. But recovery workers just want the numbers to justify their careers – and the number of those who relapse a little while down the road is one they studiously avoid.

      • djmac says:

        To be fair, I have quoted portions out of the context of the whole interview and I would urge anyone to read the whole thing. You can do that here.

        You can be reassured; nothing dangerous about it.

      • Kevin Jaffray says:

        I fail to see how this could be taken as dangerous. The sentiments behind this interview are not in any way shape or form advocating for continued use, and those who look at this would be clear in their understanding of the message that I am trying to get across. Harm reduction was seen by the ‘guiding lights’ as not producing the desired outcomes. I’m sorry but my opinion on this is there is no recovery in a graveyard. The emperors new clothes merely cover up the need for the harm reduction ethos in current agenda and taking money out of the preparation stage of someone’s journey towards recovery is meaningless and dangerous.

        My guess is that a number of individuals who are currently frontlining the recovery movement found their footing in harm reduction and indeed the whole concept of recovery lay in the harm reduction principles, reducing harm to the individual, those who come in contact with the individual and the community in which the individual lives and working towards an outcome that supports all members of our community and the overall goal is always abstinence.

        While on the subject of total abstinence, that is quite a tall order as you pointed out, forgetting to mention the number one ‘legal high’ sugar!! Harm reduction for some is a way of life that stretches way beyond the substance use, wearing a seatbelt is harm reduction. The aspect of harm reduction was introduced into the sector primarily to address the increase of blood borne viruses but was evident, or should I say is evident throughout history as a humane and evidence based way of reducing harm and educating about risks in every aspect of life.

        My fear around the whole recovery movement at present is that it is becoming a political agenda based on promotion rather than attraction. As far as shooting our wounded is concerned, and I say this with concern, this is a global statement that fortunately is more prevalent in other countries where people are tortured and executed for their use, and also aimed at those who are service long prison sentences for non violent drug offences #supportdontpunish #reformdrugpolicy #publichealth #stopthewarondrugs

        • djmac says:

          No problem; the interview was passionate and moved me.

          I wonder if, despite the similarities in recovery-oriented drugs policy between England & Scotland, there is a difference in approach. We have a cross-party consensus here on the strategy. I may be out of the loop, but I’m not aware of a politicisation of the recovery movement here or of recovery being a political issue. I reviewed an academic paper that did seem to present things as a politically driven agenda in England.

    2. Kevin Jaffray says:

      Thanks Mac, for repost and for kind words. It is time to galvanise and work together here. There is an elephant in the room here that seems to be getting overlooked at the cost of those who we are here to support.

    3. Brent Stone says:

      After reading the interview on “In the Booth with Ruth”, I fail to see how anyone, other than those who choose to remain under the influence of the dominant socio-culturally moralistic agenda surrounding drugs and ‘drugs’ that has been othering, stigmatising and criminalising (to name a few) those who use the ‘wrong’ drugs while they use the ‘right’ drugs can disagree with Mr. Jaffray’s comments. They are well thought out, and make complete sense.

      What Mr. Jaffray says is not only highly relevant due to his own personal journey (which carries more weight than someone sitting in their armchair sipping whiskey and is far removed from the battlefield and the voices of those the convey the reality) but pragmatic.

      It is about time, and quite frankly, well over due for moral agendas to be dropped. Policy needs to be informed by evidence. Not because someone disagrees with another persons choice of drug. After all, at least 99% of people use drugs. Why should one drug user be forced to use in seclusion and under threat of criminal sanctions whilst another drug user can sit in a warm social environment in a culturally accommodating infrastructure and use? A consumption room, or what we commonly refer to as pubs, clubs, hotels.

      As for ‘war on drugs’, more like a war on certain drugs because i don’t see a war on caffeine or alcohol. However, the sad thing is that it is actually a war on those who use certain drugs. A war on people as each country engages in civil war on their own citizens simply for using a drug. Insane.

      Respect to Mr Jaffray.

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