Everyone deserves services no matter what: Defining success in harm-reduction-based substance user treatment

Heather Sophia Lee, Assata Zerai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article reports qualitative interview data from a study of participant-generated outcomes of two harm reduction programs in the United States. We address the question:"What does success in harm-reduction-based substance user treatment look like" Providers in this study understood harm reduction to adhere to notions of "any positive change," client centeredness, and low-threshold services. Participants reported changes in demarginalization, engagement in the program, quality of life, social functioning, changes in substance use, and changes in future goals and plans. The nature of these changes is difficult to articulate within traditional notions of success (i.e., abstinence, program completion, etc.). We conclude that participants in harm reduction programs experience tangible positive changes but that legitimation of these changes calls for a reconceptualization of "outcomes" and "success" in the current context of substance user treatment and research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2411-2427
Number of pages17
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number14
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010



  • demarginalization
  • harm reduction
  • legitimation
  • low-threshold services
  • quality of life

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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