A lesson from the diggers: Water and Harm Reduction

I took this picture while I was on holidays.  It’s the end of an old Furphy water cart.  The Furphy water cart was produced in Australia and became synonymous with the Australian soldiers of World War I.  So what has this got to do with harm reduction?  Quite simply water is one of the most under-rated tools in the harm reduction worker’s toolkit.  Like the Australian soldiers of the First World War, for the drug user,  water is a critical consideration in maintaining good health.  It is important then that harm reduction workers understand and convey the importance of adequate hydration to drug users. So let’s have a look at why water is important.

Water and Opiates

Opiates such as heroin dry out saliva in the mouth which leads to tooth decay.  Drinking plenty of water can assist in reducing the damage to teeth and gums.

Water and Alcohol

Water chasers between each alcoholic beverage can assist in slowing the rate of alcohol consumption as well as replacing some of the fluids lost due the dehydrating effects of alcohol.

Water and Psycho-stimulants

Psycho – stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines and MDMA all raise the body temperature and can dehydrate the bodyWhen use of these types of substances is combined with physical exertion (say like dancing) this can further increase core body temperature and sweating.  .  In extreme cases this can lead to seizures and in some cases death.

The general rule of thumb for maintaining adequate hydration when using psycho-stimulants is:

  • 500 ml of water or fruit juice per hour if active (dancing your arse off!)
  • 250 ml of water or fruit juice per hour if inactive

(Bluebelly Website http://bluebelly.org.au/reducingrisk/article.aspx?aid=182&cid=9)

It’s the simple things in life that can make a difference and water is one of them so don’t forget to let people know about the importance of water.


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