Guest post: Harm reduction and the community herbalist

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INTRO–Hi, readers! welcome to the first ever FWF guest post.-Traci

Harm Reduction and Herbalism

By Rippy, herbalist and owner of Riptide Herbs

*This is based on my experiences in the field. I would like to state that there are many methods and principles out there that work for folks; these are some that have resonated with me as a community herbalist*

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction are most often applied to folks who misuse substances.  However, these principles can also be applied to interfacing with folks in general. What brought me to this topic has been my own work with active drug users and folks who have misused drugs in the past.  Illicit drug use is commonly associated with drugs like heroin, meth and crack, but it’s important for us to think about drug misuse happening with prescription and non-prescription drugs as well. I think this is an important caveat as with the recent opioid epidemic and health crisis in New England (and other areas)– often times the misuse has started with prescription drugs. If you want to read more about this please check resources listed below.

 

The Principles of Harm Reduction as distilled from The Harm Reduction Coaltion.org

http://harmreduction.org/about-us/principles-of-harm-reduction/

 

“A set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences…Harm Reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies…to meet [folks]“where they’re at”. Because harm reduction demands that interventions and policies are designed to reflect specific individual and community needs, there is no universal definition of or formula for implementing harm reduction.”

SO FUCK YEAH TAILOR IT, MAKE IT YOUR OWN AND APPLY IT!!

The Harm Reduction Coalition has come up with these evolving principles:

Work to minimize harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them

  • Establishes quality of individual and community life and well-being-as the criteria for successful interventions
  • Calls for the non-judgmental, non-coercive provision of services and resources to people
  • Ensures that folks have a real voice in the creation of programs (protocols) designed to serve them
  • Affirms folks themselves as the primary agents, Seeks to empower folks to share information and support each other
  • Recognizes that the realities of poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past trauma, sex-based discrimination and other inequalities effect both people’s vulnerabilities to and capacity for effectively dealing with their health

 

How can these principles be applied to Herbalism?

 

  • Let us broaden our scopes, suggest that any momentum, movement, is good and implement a client-focused model.
  • Let us adhere to the notion that folks coming to us are knowledgeable about their bodies.
  • I often hear conversations about accessibility, especially when applied to the sliding scale model. Instead, I want to hear conversations about approachability. Let us ask ourselves, how do we as herbalists make herbs “approachable?”

 

My thinking is that most folks do not want to hear everything they have to cut out of their life; everything they have to give up and stop doing. Often I hear the rhetoric of “no alcohol, no sugar, no coffee, no grains, no wheat, no fun? Let us NOT draw a hard line. The first step to bridge the gap, rather, should be how to use food as medicine, and how to integrate herbs (especially with no contraindications) into a person’s CURRENT lifestyle.

 

I want to encourage herbalists to meet folks “where they’re at” while remaining aware of their own internal biases and dialogue and applying the principle of cultural humility. Cultural humility is the idea that one’s cultural lens and perspective is not superior to another’s, just different.  Cultural humility allows us to approach cross-cultural situations with a humble attitude and to have an openness to the reality of others.  Cultural humility is sometimes referred to as cultural competency. However, ‘competency’ has weight and gravity; that we are finished; that we have learned. It’s never learned as in complete/competent—it’s a lifelong learning process (Tervalon, Murray-Garcia, p 118).

 

A part of this process has been learning from the folks I interface with daily, in a polluted city, with limited resources. I work with folks who are living on the street, not sleeping, not eating, living with co-occurring infections, misusing substances and facing limited resources and socio economic barriers that include classism, racism, sexism etc.

 

Question: When folks are going through active withdrawal from opiates, will they listen to your opinion on what they should do and what they shouldn’t do? Will they listen to you if you tell them how to live their life?  Hell no!  Folks are attempting to manage their life in the best way they know how.

 

Instead, harm reduction can come in many forms. It can come in the form of a cup of tea, a sweetened cold brew, ramen noodles with some freeze dried shitake mushrooms, creams to help with track mark scars, ginger chew candies to help with nausea.  It’s important to offer options, a smorgasbord, and encourage folks to try different options and experiment.  Ultimately, it will be their choice to take it or leave it and I encourage folks to do so and experiment. I encourage herbalists to think about these principles and ideas and experiment with integrating it into their own practice.

 

Below is a list of resources that I have found helpful and inspiring:

 

  • The Harm Reduction webpage including the Guide to Getting off Right and Harm Reduction Newsletters specifically Witch’s Brew articles that feature herbal remedies
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Chasing Heroin, Frontline Documentary, PBS
  • Cultural humility versus cultural competence: A critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education by Tervalon, M, & Murray-Garcia, J. (1998). Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 9, 117-125.
  • Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa, Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Stephen Bratman
  • Donna Odierna, herbalists, MPH, Harm Reduction, Herbalism and Needle Exchange
  • Motivational Interviewing, read about it, go to trainings

 

Questions or comments? Please contact Rippy at: emkmoulton@riseup.net