Fighting the Opiate Epidemic: Harm Reduction Strategies

Fighting the Opiate Epidemic: Harm Reduction Strategies

There are multiple approaches being used to fight the opiate addiction epidemic in the United States. One of the most controversial is the use of harm reduction strategies that aim to make drug use safer and minimize the damage caused by drugs. Here, we’ll explore a few of these methods and examine how effective they are.

The Philosophy Behind Harm Reduction

Harm reduction strategies are popular among community organizers and activists and have recently gained traction among health professionals and public policymakers. Making drug use safer seems counter-intuitive- if we don’t want people to use drugs, why would we make it easier? However, the philosophy behind supporting harm reduction strategies is that addicts are going to continue to use drugs until they get into a comprehensive treatment program. The belief is that it makes sense to reduce the spread of communicable diseases and the risk of fatal overdose among the drug-using population. By doing this, harm reduction advocates argue, we reduce the impact of drugs on communities and keep addicts as safe and healthy as possible until we can get them into drug treatment for a more long-term solution.

Types of Harm Reduction Strategies

Harm reduction strategies come in multiple forms, but all of them are specifically targeted at reducing some specific danger of drug use. These methods are usually focused on mitigating the effects of intravenous drug use, which carries the most risk of transmitting diseases between users. Some of the most well-known harm reduction strategies include:

  • Needle exchanges: these programs offer clean syringes and other drug paraphernalia to users who turn in their used and old syringes in order to reduce the risk of spreading HIV and hepatitis C through needle-sharing. Many of these clinics also offer to test for these diseases and connect users to options for health care.
  • Naloxone distribution: Naloxone is an opiate overdose-reversal drug. It comes in nasal sprays and in auto-injector forms. Due to high rates of overdoses in many communities in the United States, first responders and police officers often carry naloxone. The drug is also available in many places without a prescription, so that people who know opiate addicts can have access to this lifesaving drug in order to help family members, friends, or loved ones in the case of an overdose.
  • Supervised injection sites: Possibly the most controversial of all harm reduction strategies, supervised injection sites are places where intravenous drug users can inject their drugs while being watched by medical professionals, who can provide aid in the case of an overdose. There are no supervised injection sites currently in the United States, but they do exist in sixty-six cities around the world, including one in Canada. Some activists are lobbying for the creation of supervised injection sites in the United States.

Do Harm Reduction Strategies Work?

One of the major arguments against using harm reduction strategies is that they encourage drug use without consequences. However, some data refutes this argument and actually makes the case that these methods can help addicts get into comprehensive treatment programs. One study found that in addition to reducing fatal overdoses and the transmission of diseases like HIV, harm reduction programs actually increased patient “engagement with treatment.” In other words, having access to harm reduction methods put addicts in contact with medical professionals and therapists, which made them more likely to examine their drug use and to seek more long-term treatment with the eventual goal of quitting their drug use.

So, it turns out that in addition to reducing the tragedies caused by addiction, harm reduction strategies can actually encourage addicts to get help for their addiction because they are put in touch with organizations that can get them into treatment or help them to recognize the negative consequences of their use.

A Real Solution

The only true way to get rid of the destructive and painful consequences of drug addiction is to recover from the disease and to become abstinent from substances. For some people, harm reduction strategies can keep them alive and healthy for long enough to enroll in treatment. For others, it may simply reduce the health effects of drug use. Ultimately, the only way to ensure safety from fatal overdose and illness is to get comprehensive addiction treatment in a professional setting. If you suffer from opiate addiction or any other substance use disorder, effective treatment is available at Wellness Retreat Recovery. If you’re ready to leave your addiction behind for good, call us today at 888-821-0238.