Following up on my last post on harm reduction, I've been hearing a lot on the radio lately about harm reduction efforts happening in Seattle. In particular, stories about creating "Safe Consumption Sites" across King County. Here are a few links in case you have missed the discussion.
Research shows that these kinds of programs have worked in places such as Vancouver, BC, and several countries in Europe. The programs reduce harm by
* reducing the number of overdose deaths
* providing a safe, clean, and secure space for people to use, while reducing the visibility of use to the community
* reducing HIV and Hepatitis C transmission, thereby saving not only people's health but also taxpayer money
* providing an opportunity for people who are using drugs to have multiple contacts with health professionals, who can help users move towards treatment options, healthcare, housing, and other services
Opponents say that these programs encourage drug use and increase crime. The research does not support this. In fact, research indicates that those who use safe consumption sites actually get help and/or enter treatment sooner than those who do not use the sites.
For people who do not want a drug consumption site in their backyard, I wonder...Would you rather wake up to dirty needles outside of your doorstep? Would you rather have less people in your neighborhood contracting HIV and Hep C? Would you rather pay more or less in taxes for the costs associated with arresting and housing homeless people on drug charges, hospitalizing those who have overdoses, and paying for treatment for those who have contracted HIV and Hep C through dirty needles? Would you rather see people injecting drugs in your neighborhood, or have them do it indoors, out of sight?
What would you rather have?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
For a long time, those who struggled with addictions had only one model of treatment and it centered around the idea of abstinence only. While 12 steps and abstinence only have certainly helped many people, they aren't for everyone.
What is harm reduction? In short, harm reduction refers to programs, policies, and practices that aim to the reduce the harms associated with substance use or other risky behaviors.
One of the first harm reduction ideas started with IV drug users and the concern of spreading HIV through dirty needles. At the time, it was controversial to be handing out clean needles to people who used IV drugs. Now needle exchange programs are commonplace, and the evidence supports that these programs reduce various harms (HIV, Hepatitis C, skin infections, etc.).
Some harm reduction ideas are so commonplace that many people don't realize they are participating in harm reduction--for example using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections, or using designated drivers while drinking.
Opioid Replacement Therapy, methadone maintenance programs, safe injection sites, and Naloxone distribution are among many other examples harm reduction.
Have you tried an abstinence only or 12 step approach and found difficulty with it? Don't give up hope--there are other options!
Harm reduction can be different for everyone. If you are using alcohol or other drugs, harm reduction may look like using less, using in different ways, using at different times, not driving while using, etc. Anything that reduces harm is part of harm reduction.
If you are interested in trying a harm reduction approach, whether it be with your alcohol use, gambling, or other drugs or risky behaviors, feel free to contact me. I'd love to help.
What have your experiences been with harm reduction and/or abstinence only approaches?
Amber is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. She offers counseling for individual adults and clinical supervision for social workers. For fun, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, researching genealogy, reading, and dragon boating.
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