Let’s talk about harm reduction as it relates to drug and alcohol abuse. What is harm reduction? Harm reduction is any technique or approach that intends to literally reduce the harm in an activity. Harm reduction does not attempt to reduce the actual occurrence of the activity, rather it just attempts to reduce the risk associated with that activity.
Harm reduction comes up in all fields and areas of life. For example, in the automobile industry, creating better airbags, seat belts, and better-built cars is a harm reduction approach because it contends that some people will get into accidents and that they should be as well protected as possible when they do. On the other end of the spectrum, driving-assist technology and automatic sensors that detect other persons and cars would be on the more proactive side, as these approaches actually attempt to reduce the occurrence of a dangerous event itself.
Harm reduction pops up quite a bit in our efforts to address drug and alcohol addiction as well. Such efforts adopt the perspective that people are going to abuse drugs and alcohol no matter what, and that it would behoove us to find ways to make it safer for them to do so. All in all, harm reduction is sort of an admission of defeat, an acceptance that, no matter what, certain people are going to abuse drugs and alcohol regardless of our efforts to get them cleaned up. This brought us to perhaps the most prominent harm reduction strategy yet, an idea to create “Safe Places” or areas where drug users could shoot up and use drugs in a safe, monitored setting.
A research project began last year at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to determine what could be done about the massive outbreak of IV drug use in Baltimore, Maryland. The result? Hopkins researchers suggested that Baltimore open “Safe Places” to do drugs.
According to the Hopkins researchers, having two facilities in Baltimore, one on each side of town would help addicts to use drugs in a safe setting. According to the research, overdose statistics would reduce because addicts would be doing drugs in a monitored setting, one that was staffed with medical staff and non-drug-using personnel. Furthermore, each facility would give out clean needles for IV drug use, so the facilities would also help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and other blood-borne illnesses.
The Hopkins research staff cited other instances in other countries where safe drug use zones have been utilized to good results. Apparently, more than ninety-seven such facilities have already been fully established worldwide, across eleven countries and in sixty-six different cities. The country of Canada is currently working on a key legislation that would increase their utilization of such facilities possibly ten-fold.
It goes without saying that there are those who strongly support the idea of safe places, and there are those who strongly reject it. According to Susan Sherman, a professor at the Bloomberg School:
Another individual, Mike Gimbel, who is the former director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse:
And there is not just the argument back and forth as to the rightness or wrongness of such facilities, but the legal repercussions of them. Possessing drug substances like heroin, cocaine, meth, or even prescription drugs without a prescription for them is illegal, and can lead to an arrest. In fact, if a city is found to be supporting safe injection sites, the entire city could “get into trouble” as it were and face federal justice in the form of withdrawn federal funding, removal of city leaders, etc.
If Baltimore supported safe injection sites, it could end up causing trouble for the entire city. According to Leana Wen, the Baltimore Health Commissioner:
It’s pretty clear to see that political and public opinion alike is pretty divided on this topic. At the end of the day, the one factor that most can’t get over about anything harm reduction-related with drug and alcohol abuse is the simple fact that this approach supports addicts continuing to use drugs, as opposed to trying to get them off of drugs.
No one is questioning the fact that the United States is certainly struggling with a brutal and crippling drug problem. In the city of Baltimore alone, it is estimated that nineteen thousand people engage in IV drug use, and that’s just IV drug use alone, not even the combined total of all of the different types of drug use occurring in this beleaguered city. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baltimore faced four-hundred and eighty-one fatal overdoses in just the first nine months of the year 2016, a drastic increase from the year prior.
We need to get people off of drugs and alcohol. Harm reduction strategies don’t really reduce the harm, because they contend that people are just going to keep using drugs and alcohol no matter what and that there really isn’t much of anything that we can do about that. Harm reduction is a loser’s gambit, as it never gets to the bottom of the addiction struggle itself. We need solutions for drug addicts and alcoholics alike that help them overcome their habits, not “solutions” that only support their habits.