Harm Reduction and Recovery High

“What is your harm reduction strategy?” you ask. The short answer is always the same: “We are an abstinence-based program.” Yes, that means that we cannot, by design, incorporate harm reduction programs into our recovery model. This does not imply in any way, shape, or form, that we are opposed to harm reduction programs in appropriate treatment settings however it is not part of the backbone of recovery education. I am not aware, and that is not to say that it may not exist, of any recovery high schools currently operating throughout the U.S. that have adopted harm reduction protocols of one form or another, in their organizational models. In my experience all recovery high schools require students to remain abstinent as a condition of enrollment.

I am no expert on harm reduction but I do believe that more research is needed to understand the extent of strategies such as substitution programs on adolescents specifically. You may have noticed that I am clearly avoiding naming names here. This is deliberate; recovery education as we have developed it for the Canadian family, does not allow for, or consider, youth who are part of a harm reduction program since this means they are not abstinent. Although they may be working toward recovery for which we applaud them, they do not yet meet our criteria for program entrance.

This has been quite possibly the most sensitive topic so far but one which I felt was important to explore together.

Yours truly,
Eileen Shewen MBA, PhD Founder and CEO

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