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Harm reduction social work with people who use drugs: a qualitative interview study with social workers in harm reduction services in Sweden
Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society (HS), Department of Social Work (SA).ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0653-0849
Department of Social Work, Protestant University of Applied Sciences Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany.
Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society (HS), Department of Social Work (SA).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6975-6645
2023 (English)In: Harm Reduction Journal, E-ISSN 1477-7517, Vol. 20, no 1, article id 146Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background: Social work with people who use drugs (PWUD) has traditionally focused on abstinence and rehabilitation. In recent years, harm reduction has gained an increasingly more important role in social work with PWUD, and social workers are key professionals in many harm reduction services. This study investigates how social workers in harm reduction services for PWUD in Sweden understand the concept of harm reduction and how it relates to goals of rehabilitation, and how they assess and deal with dilemmas and challenges in everyday work.

Methods: The study is based on interviews with 22 social workers in harm reduction services for PWUD in the Scania region of Sweden. A thematic analysis in three steps was used in coding and processing the data.

Results: The social workers pointed to similar values between social work and harm reduction and argued for combining the two fields to improve services for PWUD. Three overarching principles for Harm Reduction Social Work (HRSW) were developed based on the social workers accounts: (1) Harm reduction is a prerequisite for rather than a counterpoint to rehabilitation and recovery, (2) motivational work must be non-mandatory and based on the client's goals, (3) a holistic perspective is crucial for Harm Reduction Social Work. Challenges in doing HRSW concerned restrictive laws, policies, and guidelines, resistance from managers, difficulties in setting boundaries between client autonomy and life-saving interventions, and the risk of normalizing high-risk behaviors.

Conclusions: We use the concept of Harm Reduction Social Work to show how social work with PWUD can have a primary focus on reducing harm and risks, while at the same time it involves a holistic perspective that facilitates motivation and change. The suggested principles of HRSW can provide guidance in practical social work with vulnerable PWUD. Social workers can have important roles in most harm reduction settings and may act to enable recovery.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
BioMed Central (BMC), 2023. Vol. 20, no 1, article id 146
Keywords [en]
Drug addiction, Harm reduction, Harm reduction social work, People who use drugs, Recovery, Rehabilitation, Social work
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:mau:diva-63174DOI: 10.1186/s12954-023-00884-wISI: 001086757900001PubMedID: 37833801Scopus ID: 2-s2.0-85174318108OAI: oai:DiVA.org:mau-63174DiVA, id: diva2:1805390
Part of project
Urban drug scenes as risk environments - how do the police and social welfare institutions intervene and how are problem drug users affected?, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond
Funder
Malmö University, P18-0892:1Riksbankens JubileumsfondAvailable from: 2023-10-17 Created: 2023-10-17 Last updated: 2024-02-15Bibliographically approved

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Richert, TorkelNordgren, Johan

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