Harm Reduction

In the United States, addiction treatment for drugs and alcohol is focused on getting the individual to stop using the substance in question completely.   Surprisingly, most other countries around the world have adopted a different approach to substance abuse and addiction – in the form of the harm reduction treatment model.

What Is Harm Reduction?

Simply put, harm reduction refers to a program that makes the conditions safer for the chronic drug user.  Instead of focusing on the cessation of all drug intake, harm reduction allows the individual to continue using drugs, but in the safest manner possible. While the addict will still experience health consequences from the drug use, it removes the likelihood of certain health risks, such as contracting infectious diseases. It’s a way to lessen the impact of drug addiction and could work well for those addicts who are just not yet ready to enter rehab.

Harm reduction has been shown to reduce the instances of death from certain addictions. Essentially, harm reduction acknowledges that complete abstinence from all drugs isn’t a possibility for everyone in the population. With the acceptance of this knowledge, harm reduction attempts to mitigate the damage caused by this ever-present issue of drub abuse and addiction.

Used for Heroin Addiction

Perhaps the most well-known form of harm reduction is the needle exchange program as a means of reducing health risks for heroin addicts.   Rather than take away an individual’s heroin, needle exchange programs strive to help keep the individual from contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B and C by making sure that they never use dirty needles previously used by other addicts.   This creates a safer environment for the addicted individual – and more or less resigns itself to the fact that they will not stop using heroin altogether.

These needle exchange programs may be government-run programs or operated by hospitals. Sometimes they take the form of drop-in clinics where addicts can drop off their used syringes and get clean, sterile syringes for their future heroin use.

Proponents of this form of harm reduction for heroin abuse say that the addicts’ presence at these centers gives them a gateway into recovery help should they get curious about it. According to Avert.org, needle exchange programs effectively reduce the rate of HIV transmission among heroin and other intravenous drug users.

Applied to Alcoholism

An individual living with alcoholism is likely to put himself in a number of situations that are a danger to himself and others.  Rather than try to get this individual to stop drinking entirely, the harm reduction treatment model emphasizes moderation and safer behaviors surrounding the consumption of alcohol.   Making sure that the individual does not drink and drive is one example of harm reduction as it pertains to alcoholism.

This method of harm reduction again embraces the knowledge that not all alcoholics are ready for recovery. Many alcoholics simply won’t stop drinking altogether so instead, this model seeks to reduce the likelihood of death or injury as a result of the alcoholic’s actions.

Criticisms of the Harm Reduction Model

There are, of course, many people who do not believe that harm reduction is an effective means of treating substance abuse or addiction.   These people argue that the longer an individual is allowed to use drugs or drink alcohol, the greater harm they are doing to their long-term health.   There is also the school of thought that nobody with an addiction can self-moderate their own behavior – and that even in the safest conditions, the individual’s condition will continue to grow worse over time.

The United States has been more reticent to embrace the harm reduction model than other countries. Initially, federal funding for certain harm reduction programs, such as needle exchange programs, was banned; however, that ban was repealed in 2009. Other countries, such as Australia, have long embraced the effectiveness of these programs.

Passing Judgment on the Addict

Harm reduction proponents believe that traditional drug rehab is simply passing too much judgment on the individual – and that as human beings we all have imperfections that must be accepted as a matter of course.   Harm reduction programs state that we need to work within our limitations in the safest, healthiest ways possible to keep the addicts – who are victims – alive and well.

If you know someone who is suffering from drug addiction and could benefit from some form of harm reduction treatment, contact us today. We can offer advise that can truly help you and your loved one.