Harm reduction – Why the bad press for addiction treatment that works?!

condoms can help protect again STDs

How many of you think that giving a crystal meth user condoms will increase their drug use? Probably not many. What if instead the question had to do with giving that same user clean needles rather than having them share a dirty one? Or having him reduce his drug use instead of stopping completely? I bet there would be a little more disagreement there.

Some of you may have heard of the harm-reduction approach to drug abuse counseling and treatment, but many of you likely haven’t because the term itself is essentially taboo in the United States. The idea is to approach the patient (or client) without the shaming or expectations of abstinence that normally come with drug treatment. Instead, the counselors hope to reduce as much of the negative things associated with the drug use.

For example, almost all drug injecting users end up with hepatitis C due to dirty-needle sharing. As in the above example, harm reduction practitioners would seek to provide users with clean needles, thereby reducing needle sharing and the transmission of disease. Risky sexual behavior is often associated with methamphetamine, and crack use; instead of targeting the use itself, often, interventions attempt to reduce unprotected sex, reducing HIV transmission in the process.

hypodermic-needleHarm reduction has many supporters, but unfortunately, there are at least as many people who are against it. The claim is that harm reduction doesn’t stop drug use, and that we shouldn’t be in the business of making drug use easier. In fact, though they have no data to support it, some people argue that giving users clean needles is likely to exacerbate their drug use. My argument is that life as a drug user is pretty difficult as is, and if we can provide a way to show drug addicts that people actually care about their well-being, we might help some of them see the light.

Even more to the point, my thinking is that HIV, Hepatitis C, and other conditions often helped by harm-reduction, have to be considered as additional societal costs of drug abuse. If harm reduction helps us tackle those collateral costs, I’m all for it as an additional tool.

The bottom line is this: If we can use multiple tools to solve a problem, why limit ourselves unnecessarily to only one? If harm reduction helps, why not use it in conjunction with abstinence treatment?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s time for us to stop resorting to ridiculous moral judgments and start focusing on solving the problem. If we can help an addict use less, use fewer drugs, or use more responsibly, I say we should go for it!!!

6 Replies to “Harm reduction – Why the bad press for addiction treatment that works?!”

  1. I agree with you! Addiction is progressive. It only gets worse, which means one’s “thinking” only gets more compromised. So, I think every contact that can be made between a professional and a drug user, during which time gentle sharings of information and help resources is possible, is far better than the alternative. We all know that what works to finally turn one person towards recovery may not work for another, otherwise we’d all have it figured out by now, and everyone would be doing it the same way. In my opinion, harm reduction offers another possibility for a person hearing what they need to hear or experiencing what they need to experience in order to seek recovery.
    Let’s face it, abstinence only sex education does not prevent pregnancy, but in many cases, understanding the facts of how it works and what can be done to avoid it (one alternative being abstinence) is far more effective overall.

  2. I think its time to start using alot of collateral prevention.The U.S. is so ridiculous trying to punish this problem out of society,we are 5% of the total global population yet we consume over 50% of the worlds drugs!!thats absolutely frightening,condoms and clean needles are an absolutely good idea,Im 8 years clean and sober and know from personal experience that these things will help immensley,not to promote but prevent further harm and transfer of diseases,thanks richard miramontes

  3. Any system or tool that helps should be supported. It should not be presented as something it is not, BUT it should not be undermined or sabotaged because it’s value altho questioned by SOME is that it helps.

  4. All recovery is in its truest form is simply harms reduction, whether a person remains completely abstinent is harms reduction, just like a person that misused a substance that stopped misusing is harms reduction. Reducing dosing is harms reduction; the same as using Suboxone for an opioid dependent person is harms reduction.

  5. It seems to me harm reduction may be the logical approach to where someone is at in their addiction. While abstinence may be a preferable outcome it may not be shared by a drug involved person. From a purely public health position reducing the harm is good for everyone.

    Drug involved person is compromised in how they think and in their perception of what is possible. Motivation may be compromised as well. It is the role of a therapist to enhance the motivation and to help to show the possibilities for recovery.

    Even with the best treatment harm reduction may be the only achievable goal. I say hurray for the goal but let’s not forget what can happen if a person gets motivated to recovery FROM drugs.

  6. the media and the government’s attitude to people with drug problems is always a negative one. When a drug worker can help a user into motivating her or himself into harm reduction it should be seen as the way forward, but all to often the media run down drug users who seek help as being pitiful, and condeming these practices as helping the drug user by supplying needles etc. God only help them if it’s their son or daughter who have to go through it!! Why cant the media and Mp’s see that harm reduction is the only way forward in drug treatment.

Leave a Reply