Have you heard about harm reduction strategies? If not, we are going to look at this topic in-depth and educate you about it and how it pertains to addiction treatment. Harm reduction is an established set of ideas and interventions which seek to reduce the negative consequences of drug abuse. It is a public health strategy developed initially for adults with substance abuse problems, specifically for people who weren’t able to engage in abstinence.
What Does Harm Reduction Involve Concerning Addiction?
Harm reduction incorporates a spectrum of different strategies from safer use, to managing abstinence, to meet drug abusers where they are in life and to address the use along with the drug itself. In recent years, harm reduction has been successfully used for sex education in an effort to reduce both teen pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections. When the principles of harm reduction are applied to drug use, it is accepted that a continual level of drug abuse in society is unavoidable and it defines clear aims at reducing negative results.
What Principles are Central to the Practice of Harm Reduction?
Because harm reduction principles demand interventions and guidelines designed to serve drug users specific personal needs and public needs, there’s no commonly accepted definition for implementing the practices. The following principles are what the Harm Reduction Coalition considers key to harm reduction practices:
- Accepts that illegal drug use is a part of our world and chooses to work to diminish its harmful effects rather than simply overlook them.
- Do not try to ignore or minimize the real and harmful effects associated with illicit drug use.
- Understanding drug use is a complicated, multi-faceted problem which encompasses a range of behaviors from severe abuse to total abstinence.
- Establishes a quality of personal and societal life and well-being. Not necessarily ceasing all drug use as criteria for successful intercessions and strategies.
- Ensures drug users themselves are the main agents of reducing the harms of their drug abuse seeks to empower users through education and supporting each other.
- Seeks to establish drug users and those with a history of drug abuse have a “voice” in the creation of programs and strategies to serve them.
- Calls for the nonjudgmental provision of services and resources to people who use drugs and the communities they live in, in order to assist them in reducing harm.
- Recognizing that poverty, class, racism, social isolation, past traumas, and social inequalities affect a person’s vulnerability to effectively handle drug-related harm.
What are the Key Harm Reduction Issues?
The Drug Policy Alliance has highlighted the key issues associated with harm reduction strategies and these include:
- Discrimination against drug users: In order for harm reduction strategies to become effective it’s necessary to end discrimination against drug users. Stigma against drug abusers extends to both recreational and problematic drug use and it requires advocating for compassion and judgement-free approaches to addiction.
- Drug overdose: For people under 50, accidental drug overdose is the leading cause of death in America. Harm reduction proposes promoting sensible ideas and better policies at state and federal levels to reduce these deaths.
- Naloxone: This drug is an inexpensive, FDA-approved medication which reverses the effects of an opiate overdose and it has no abuse potential. More people need to have access to the drug to save lives in the event of an overdose situation.
- Good Samaritan laws: People using illegal opiates could be worried about arrest if they call emergency services when witnessing an overdose. The best way to encourage the saving of lives is to provide immunity from drug violation laws through promoting Good Samaritan laws.
- Syringe access: Programs that offer sterile syringes to drug abusers can help lower the chances of someone contracting HIV or hepatitis C. Having wider access to sterile syringes could be beneficial by ending policies which criminalize syringe possession and limit sterile syringe distribution.
How Does Harm Reduction Reduce Prison Time for Drug Abusers?
While it’s impossible to totally ignore drug abusers and to allow the behavior to continue, there’s evidence suggesting addiction harms society, as well as the user. Putting a drug abuser in prison means spending public funding on housing, meals and healthcare. Leaving an addict to continue using drugs in place without treatment resources means dealing with other issues such as:
- Increase in crime rates
- Public health problems
- Increased need for long-term foster care for the children of parent’s with addiction
- Decreased property values in drug-impacted areas
Harm reduction principles require community support in order to make a drug user safe and to lessen the harmful effects of addiction on its residents.
What are Some Harm Reduction Medications?
There are particular drugs which are considered ideal for use in harm reduction methodologies concerning addiction treatment. Buprenorphine works on the opiate receptors in the brain, the same ones which are activated during heroin use, but it also has a ceiling effect. There are drugs used with medication-assisted treatment such as Suboxone, Subutex, Vivitrol, buprenorphine and naloxone which reduce cravings and withdrawal but not designed for long-term abuse.
Medications containing buprenorphine have been established as effective in helping addicted people stay motivated to become clean. Harm reduction medications are prescribed by specially licensed health care providers and in some cases, people can avoid long-term treatment and be cared for in a doctor’s office.
Naloxone when delivered via shot or nasal spray can block the effects of an opiate overdose. The medication is usually given by an emergency responder such as a paramedic, EMT or police officer. Making naloxone widely available could allow drug users to treat each other in the event of an accidental overdose and it may result in thousands of lives saved.
A Changing Future for Harm Reduction Principles:
The passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) may help change societal views about addiction because as part of the law, addiction treatment is considered “essential services.” Four of the medications used for medication-assisted treatment are included as part of the ACA services for addiction medicine services.
In the meantime, supporters of harm reduction principles could keep pushing for people who have addiction issues to get help for the problem. Our admissions personnel are available to answer questions, provide resources and to show someone how accepting treatment could help them experience the benefits of a sober life.