Monday, November 26, 2007

Harm Reduction

Today in Ottawa, a rally will be held in support of Insite, the first supervised safe injection site in North America for individuals addicted to intravenous drugs. A blog specifically devoted to this issue is promoting the rally, requesting that Canadian citizens supportive of this successful harm reduction technique make their presence known in Ottawa today. 

As strange as it may seem to the uninitiated, providing a safe, clean and supervised environment for injecting drug users is in the interest of the safety and health of all citizens. According to the Insite website, rigorous scientific evaluation has shown that supervised injection leads to: reduced use of injectable drugs in public where children can be exposed to such behavior; reduced overdose fatalities; reduced transmission of blood-borne infections such as Hepatitis C and HIV; reduced injection-related infections; and improved public order. 

From my own experience participating in street outreach to IV drug users, teaching regarding clean injection technique, the availability of needle exchange programs, and medical oversight of IV drug use significantly impact public health and actually reduces the economic burden of drug use on the taxpayer by reducing ER visits, avoidable injuries, unnecessary hospitalizations, infection with blood-borne pathogens, and death rates from such behavior.

In terms of the philosophy of harm reduction, we meet the addict where he or she is, and we provide education to reduce the risks incurred through such behavior. We understand that the behavior is harmful, yet we also recognize that many individuals are not ready to address their addiction through treatment, thus we seek to mitigate the deleterious effects of their behavior. In so doing, we demonstrate to the addicted individual that we understand the difficulty of quitting and that we will support him or her in that process according to their readiness to pursue treatment. The trust created through such interactions has been documented to have a greater success rate in bringing addicts into treatment for addiction, as opposed to "tough love" interventions which preach or force a particular set of values upon the target population. 

Form more information regarding the philosophy and practice of harm reduction, The Harm Reduction Coalition's website is an excellent resource. If your community does not allow needle exchange or other harm reduction techniques, consider contacting organizations in your area that advocate for such interventions, and discuss the issue with local and state legislators. 

Addiction is, for better or worse, here to stay, and even the addicts amongst us deserve a chance to stay healthy, be supported, and seek treatment when they are ready to do so. 

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