Guest Post: Harm reduction has been one strategy for minimizing addiction, but does it work?
The idea behind harm reduction is to give addicts tools to lower the risks associated with the lifestyle of certain drugs. As the name suggests, reducing the harm surrounding addiction at least removes some highly injurious and possibly fatal aspects of drug abuse.
Heroin addicts can die from lethal injections of the drug, so one avenue of harm reduction has been needle exchange programs. For addicts who are going to inject the drug anyway, the idea is to offer a place for people to trade in used needles for new, clean ones. The spread of Hepatitis C, HIV, and other diseases is a major problem in the heroin community, so when utilized, needle exchange can reduce the otherwise continuous spread.
The United Kingdom has adopted another form of harm reduction for heroin addicts: offering free tin foil to encourage the choice of heroin smoking instead of injection. Again, with the spread of disease and high risk of overdose from intravenous heroin use, the idea is to provide safer alternatives for those who are going to use heroin no matter what.
The cost of treating a heroin addict in the long run skyrockets when a life-threatening disease is added to the mix. Medical bills for someone who needs treatment for addiction and for HIV, as you can imagine, are not cheap, and who pays? Can a young person with both diseases afford proper medical care? Usually not, so taxpayers are really the ones paying for the lifelong treatment needed in countless cases.
Harm reduction seeks to lower those potential costs. If free tin foil stops the spread of one person’s HIV, in what would have been that person’s ongoing needle sharing, while continuing the injecting method of heroin use, there is a real cost savings of treating all people who would have contracted HIV.
Is harm reduction enabling? Are needle exchange programs and free tin foil sending the message that drug use is okay, as long as you are safe about it? With this kind of alternative, what is the incentive for getting clean? If a heroin addict does take the free tin foil as an opportunity to smoke the drug instead of inject it, but the high is not the same, they may return to intravenous use and a higher likelihood of an overdose. At the same time though, if that user reduces harm by smoking heroin, and can gradually see the need to quit, he or she may choose rehab at some point. That same person, without harm reduction strategies, could have continued injecting heroin to the point of disease, overdose, and death.
What do you think about harm reduction?
Do you have firsthand experience with a drug addict that influences your opinion? Even with harm reduction, drug addiction is potentially deadly with every use. Formal treatment is needed to get someone clean, bottom line.
When you, or a loved one, is ready to make changes, the staff at Shadow Mountain Recovery is here to help. Contact the treatment team today to find out what approach to recovery best suits your unique set of circumstances and needs.
Fully reduce harm with sobriety and healing.
Image courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net