In Vancouver, Canada, heroin addicts can go to a legal, safe drug injection center to shoot up with the supervision of trained medics.
This prevents fatal overdoses and the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. Medical personnel can administer overdose-prevention drugs to prevent addicts from dying, and the center hands out clean needles.
The Vancouver injection site is the only one in North America, and the U.S. is far from adopting anything like it. But it might be time to consider methods such as clean needle exchanges and making naloxone, an overdose-prevention drug, available without a prescription.
John Knefel writes for Buzzfeed about how these controversial alternatives might be worth considering in the U.S.
To be sure, the U.S. is making some progress on making naloxone available. Some cities are equipping police officers with drugs to reverse heroin overdoses, and Attorney General Eric Holder has endorsed plans to have first responders carry these drugs as well.
But overall, policy-makers are still focusing on rehabilitation rather than harm-reduction.
Clean needle exchanges that could help prevent the spread of disease are still effectively illegal in about half of U.S. states, Buzzfeed notes. And in most states, naloxone is only available with a prescription, which makes it harder for addicts and their families to get. This is despite the fact that the drug doesn’t get a user high, isn’t addictive, and doesn’t adversly affect someone who isn’t overdosing on drugs.
Some politicians argue that harm-reduction only encourages drug addiction. Congressman Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, fought against allowing federal money to fund needle exchange programs because he thought they would encourage addicts to remain addicted to drugs and perpetuate the cycle of drug crime.
Realistically, however, treatment isn’t going to work for all drug addicts the first time. Heroin addicts often relapse after their first stint in rehab, and harm-reduction methods could help minimize the effects of those relapses.
Harm reduction might be even more important since heroin use, addiction, and overdoses are on the rise across the U.S.
There’s a ton of evidence to suggest that America’s War on Drugs has failed. Politicians and law-enforcement agencies have realised they can’t arrest their way out of the drug problem, and a new emphasis on rehabilitation rather than jailing has been hailed as a smart approach to fighting drug addiction.
But that might not be enough. The side effects of drug addiction — fatal overdose and disease — aren’t going away anytime soon, and it might be wise to look at ways to mitigate them.
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