Hacks for Harm Reduction Policies, Procedures, and Programs

This section has 6 hacks in it.
“Science and policy-making thrive on challenge and questioning; they are vital to the health of inquiry and democracy.”
Nicolas Stern

Nearly every SSP will need to create official policies and procedures. These make up the building blocks of harm reduction program design and are the operational guidelines for an organization. The purpose of policies and procedures is to protect and steer stakeholders as they fulfill the mission of the organization. They are a reference tool for appropriate action, ethical decision making, and for dealing with potential or actual conflicts.

This section discusses the basic principles that harm reduction programs use to guide their decision making, and some general guidelines for broad categories of policies and procedures that harm reduction programs usually need to address. This section also addresses ethically challenging or difficult to navigate policies specific to harm reduction organizations such as participant use of bathrooms and dealing with law enforcement. Please note that this chapter does not include any discussion of employee policies or concerns, a subject large enough that it has its own section.

Ethics, Experience and Evidence: Foundations for Harm Reduction Policies, Procedures, and Programs

In harm reduction programs there are usually three components for creating policies, procedures, and programs – ethics, experience, and evidence. To build policies, procedures, and programs in line with harm reduction best practices and ethics, they must always be grounded in the principles of harm reduction.

Outside Influences

In addition to the essential foundations for harm reduction policies – ethics, experience, and evidence – there are several other outside influences that place limitations or expectations on the policy choices that SSPs make.

Policy Creation Hacks

It can be challenging to decide on and enact policies. Here are some great hacks for creating effective policies.

Types of Policies in NPOs

There are many types of policies that NPOs should have in place. This article covers the general categories to help you think about the policy development process.

Essential Program Policies for SSPs

Many of the essential policies that SSPs will use, such as workplace theft and sexual harassment policies, are generic to NPOs and can be copied directly from a trustworthy source like a reputable organization or legal resource. Other policies are either, in whole or in part, unique to harm reduction and/or essential to SSP service provision.

The Grey: Challenging SSP Policies

There are some ethically challenging or particularly difficult issues that have emerged at SSPs over the years. These issues have been the subject of a good deal of debate and a variety of responses. Your organization should always place your values and the lived experience of the people you serve first regarding all policy decisions, especially those that have multiple conflicting responses that are compassionate and reasonable.

More Resources

Don’t reinvent the wheel
During our development Harm Reduction Hacks have collected together a large number of resources from around the web you can find these in our resource folder in Google Docs. We are also always looking for more so help us by suggesting any resources we may have missed.
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External Resources

Collected from around the web
There are a number of external resources that contributed to the development of Harm Reduction Hacks. Here are a selection relating to this section:


The hacks on this site are shared with you under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. This allows you (with attribution) to adapt content for your own use, although we do ask you to then also allow others to have equal access to anything you develop. More details of this licence can be found on the Creative Commons website.


We do not claim that this is an exhaustive set of strategies, shortcuts, or tips for running an SSP. What we do suggest is that Harm Reduction Hacks offers down-to-earth, practical information for being a better leader, starting and running an SSP, and providing syringe access services. We feel we can say this with confidence because the Hacks are based on interviews with, and the experiences of, literally generations of people who have been doing harm reduction work.

Please note that nothing in this guide should be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney local to your area to ensure your program is in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations that apply to your situation. 

Harm Reduction Hacks site design and implimentation by Nigel Brunsdon

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