Is Harm Reduction the Right Way to Address the Drug Problem?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as being a “chronic, relapsing brain disease.” It is not a character weakness or moral flaw. Rather, people with addictions need intervention and treatment to reach healing, otherwise, they will continue to struggle with the deficiencies of addiction.

There is much help available for people who want to stop abusing drugs, including psychologists, social workers, and addiction specialists. But, not everyone wants to stop using drugs or alcohol.

In the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 30.7 percent of illicit drug users who didn’t enter treatment admitted that they weren’t ready to give up their lifestyle. In other words, even with treatment available, these individuals didn’t want the help.

Drug Use Impacts More than the User

It’s easy to ignore the drug problem and let drug users continue doing what they want. If they don’t want to accept the help, then shouldn’t our attention be given toward other problems? Unfortunately, drug abuse doesn’t just harm the user. It has consequences for the community as well.

Consider the following that can occur as a result of regular drug use:

  • Increased crime
  • Public health problems such as the spread of HIV/AIDS or hepatitis
  • Increased need for foster care for the children of addicted parents
  • Lowered property values from drug-impacted communities
  • Lowered revenue from taxes

Understanding Harm Reduction

One alternative to allowing drug addicts to “bottom out” is harm reduction. With harm reduction, the idea is that illicit drug users will continue to use substances to some degree, but the community will step forward and offer support to make things safer and less harmful for everyone involved.

Here are examples of harm reduction strategies that are being used today. They won’t stop the addiction or deter the negative behaviors from taking place but rather keep people alive for longer.

  • Needle exchange programs
  • Supervised consumption facilities
  • Peer support programs
  • Outreach and education services
  • Free access to condoms
  • Take-home naloxone program
  • Substitution program (i.e., methadone, buprenorphine)

Public Support for Harm Reduction

While everyone has their own opinion on the matter of harm reduction, in general, people are beginning to realize that addictions are chronic conditions that can be recovered from.

Some companies are even making a greater effort toward hiring people that are in recovery. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act has made addiction treatments “essential services.” This means that they must be included in an insurance package.

What do you think about harm reduction strategies for addiction? Do you feel that they are beneficial or rather prolong the bigger problem?


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