What is Harm Reduction?
“Canada currently finds itself at the intersection of two historic social phenomena with massive implications for public health. First, after decades of restricting public access to marijuana, on Oct. 17, Canada became the first major industrial nation to fully legalize cannabis for both medicinal and recreational usage. Second, we find ourselves in the throes of a worsening opioid addiction crisis that has already caused the deaths of thousands of Canadians, young and old.” https://tinyurl.com/y8u6an2c
There’s no doubt that abstinence is the only way for many of us, and that it’s undoubtably the gold standard of success for the 20% of us who suffer from chronic substance use disorders, however not everyone is able, nor should everyone, eliminate drugs entirely. Many remain reliant on drugs to moderate or control withdrawal symptoms and to treat co-occurring disorders like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Certain medications, like suboxone and methadone, in combination with behavior therapies, MAT, have proven to be very effective, especially for those with concurrent disorders or opioid addiction.
Harm Reduction is a term that we hear frequently but how well do we understand it? To be clear, unless you’ve suffered from the cravings, anxiety, and the extreme malaise that plagues an addict you really have no idea what the experience involves. For those, who are trying to assist, giving drugs to a drug addict or alcohol to an alcoholic seems entirely ridiculous, but for some that’s what works! Once again, unless you’re the one dealing with an addiction you cannot fully comprehend the roadblocks on the rocky road to recovery. Recovery is very complicated, occurring on so many levels, engaging so many experiences, and involving so many relationships. Everyone of us has a truly unique situation that must be approached and treated individualistically, there is no single best remedy.
For some harm reduction treatment might be the starting point, for some others it might be the end goal, and for others a lifestyle choice that is achievable and provides the best situation for survival. Harm reduction is a treatment strategy based on the idea that abstinence is not always possible, or desirable, and that the best approach for some is to simply reduce the risk of use. Unfortunately, as simple as this sounds, providing safe drug supplies, supervised injection sites, substitution therapies like suboxone and methadone, naloxone kits and education, outreach, and peer support, are falling short and too many people are dying as a result. These critical, life saving, programs are underfunded and often rejected by communities that don’t understand their function and essential value. The benefits of these programs are vital to support people using/needing, their families and our communities.
Harm Reduction therapies are being recognized as an essential component of dynamic strategies to help those afflicted to simply stay alive in an era where the drug supply is being increasingly contaminated with deadly substances. Harm Reduction programs reduce the incidence of hepatitis and HIV, overdose deaths, and deaths by poisoning from additives like fentanyl and other chemicals used to boost potency. They also reduce substance use in public places, used paraphernalia litter, and needle sharing. Harm reduction sites reduce crime and increase employment through education and referral to health, education, employment and other social services. There is absolutely no denying the benefits of harm reduction programs. We are talking about a life and death set of circumstances that is often as elusive as it is complicated.