Tag: safe injection sites

Harm Reduction: Helping or Hurting Addicts? – Part Two

Written By: Fiona Stockard

This is part two of our series on harm reduction. Click here to read part one

What is Harm Reduction?

Naloxone Distribution

Naloxone is an “anti-overdose” drug. It’s a remarkably effective way to treat opioid overdoses. Naloxone can completely bring someone out of an overdose within two to eight minutes. In fact, Naloxone is thought to be so beneficial that it’s listed as one of the World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines.

naloxone distribution

Trial programs have distributed Naloxone to active addicts, their loved ones, police, and social service agencies. This distribution sometimes takes place at needle exchanges and opioid replacement therapy clinics.

Advocates of Naloxone say it gives addicts, quite literally, a second chance at life. If an addict overdoses on the street, their peers are more likely to give them Naloxone than take them to a hospital. If a police officer witnesses an overdose, either on the street or in jail, it’s quick and easy to give the overdosing individual Naloxone.

Opponents of Naloxone say that, once again, it’s too soft on addicts. They say addicts should be held responsible for their actions, should feel their consequences. They say if an addict overdoses, they should deal with the repercussions.

I think any sane person can agree that Naloxone distribution is a good idea! It gives addicts, and those who deal with addicts frequently, one more tool against an unfortunate and tragic death.

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Safe Injection Sites

Safe injection sites are without a doubt the most controversial form of harm reduction. At their most basic, safe injection sites offer a legally sanctioned clinic for IV users to inject drugs.

safe injection sites
Safe injection sites offer various services already mentioned. They provide access to clean syringes. Their staff is equipped with Naloxone. They offer basic health care assistance and educational classes. They have programs for addicts who’d like to receive treatment. They even have clothes and food for homeless addicts.

Advocates of safe injection sites argue that they offer an invaluable service to addicts. They offer a safe, government sanctioned location to use IV drugs. They’re equipped to combat overdose, infection, abscesses, and other common medical problems. They offer education, medical services, and rehabilitation services.

Opponents of safe injection sites argue this is simply too much. They say it’s not enough to have other options, but now addicts want a place to use illegal drugs with impunity. They say safe injection sites encourage and promote drug use. Basically, they make the same argument they’ve been making all along – that addiction should be treated as a crime, rather than a disease.

It’s worth noting there are no safe injection sites in the US. So far, they’re in various European countries, Australia, and Canada.

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Basic Healthcare Services

Basic healthcare services are exactly what they sound like. They consist of things like: physical exams, HIV and other infectious disease testing, distribution of Naloxone, distribution of contraceptives, distribution of sterile injection supplies, and more.

basic healthcare services

Basic healthcare services are important because many addicts don’t have access to doctors or other forms of primary healthcare. Advocates of harm reduction argue that basic healthcare services are a human right. Everyone, regardless of their addiction(s), should have access to healthcare.

There aren’t many opponents of basic healthcare services. Even among those who contest harm reduction strategies, few think that addicts shouldn’t have access to healthcare.

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So, Does Harm Reduction Help or Hurt Addicts?

Ultimately, this question can only be answered by the one asking it.

There are a lot of benefits to harm reduction. A lot of benefits. Harm reduction provides addicts with safe injection supplies. It offers many ways to escape the cycle of active addiction. It give addicts access to basic drug education and healthcare services. In the case of Naloxone and safe injection sites, harm reduction even saves lives.

There are also some drawbacks. It can propagate addiction. Addicts may find it easier to rely on harm reduction than to get sober. Note that I said may. This hasn’t been proven. Certainly, addicts need to feel the consequences of their use. That’s the only way we heal.

When weighing the pros and the cons, it’s clear that harm reduction does more good than bad. However, addiction is a complicated disease. What’s good for one addict may be harmful to another.

You have the facts, now you can decide for yourself. Is harm reduction good or bad? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Having an educated and balanced discussion about harm reduction is the only way we can decide, as a group of sober individuals, if it helps or hurts.

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