The Benefit of Harm Reduction for Heroin Addicts
People have often heard of abstinence based addiction treatment, but are less familiar with the concept of harm reduction.
In the past, many people have not believed that harm reduction could work, that it would only encourage drug addiction and crime. This fear has not played out. Further, there are people with drug problems who do not want to get sober, or don’t want to do so in the immediate future, yet they don’t want all the negative health consequences of being a person with substance use disorder, such as infections from being unable to procure clean needles. Additionally, harm reduction programs can help save money from taxpayers who foot the bill for uninsured addicts who visit emergency rooms with preventable illnesses.
Harm reduction is not a new idea. Needle exchanges started in the 1970s, and a drug called naloxone that reverses overdoses from heroin and opioid painkillers was created a decade earlier. The general thought behind harm deduction is that it prevents death and disease, may give detox encouragement or information, and provides a safe place a person with substance use disorder can go to for help and sometimes even inject their drugs under supervision, to monitor the drug reaction and prevent death from overdose. At this time, there is only one supervised injection facility in North America: Insite, in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.
According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, heroin use rose about 65% between 2002 and 2012 for people over the age of 12. There is a huge need to deal with this crisis by providing addicts options without stigmatizing them and preventing them from seeking the help that they may want later.
Heroin use among young, middle-class users in the suburbs and rural areas is steadily increasing, and will undoubtedly rise as painkillers continue to get more expensive and heroin is relatively cheap. The development and implementation of harm reduction programs across the country could positively reduce the rising tide of deaths from drug overdoses and disease transmission.
The focus on rehabilitation should always be on the individual, and what will work best for them. Harm reduction techniques allow us to keep drug abusers alive until they are ready to lead their best lives.