Who cares about harm reduction?

Who cares about harm reduction?

The short answer is: you should. Harm reduction could protect you and the people you love from serious illness and death.

The Harm Reduction Coalition defines harm reduction as “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.” In other words, it’s a way to keep people safe while they are engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

Harm reduction has been shown again and again to prevent the spread of hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS to the general population, and harm reduction can prevent overdose deaths.

Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS. According to the Mayo Clinic,  Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation and may cause serious liver damage. The hepatitis C virus spreads when blood contaminated with the virus enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. Health care providers and intravenous drug users are at especially high risk. There are medications to treat hepatitis, and sometimes a liver transplant is required.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). If AIDS is untreated, it can be fatal. HIV can be spread by contact with infected blood, so intravenous drug users are at risk. There are medications to treat AIDS.

Harm reduction programs typically provide intravenous drug users with clean needles. This reduces the spread of the hepatitis C virus and HIV to others, including people who do not use drugs.

Overdose deaths. Distributing naloxone (the drug that reverses opioid overdoses) to people who use opioids is another harm reduction strategy. Research suggests that programs that distribute naloxone directly to people who use drugs are highly effective at reducing overdose deaths.

If you or someone you love uses opioids, having naloxone nearby is one way to prevent an overdose death.

If those aren’t enough reasons to support harm reduction, there’s the cost of treating people with Hepatitis C and AIDS. A 12-week course of medication for Hep C runs around $84,000. Sometimes a liver transplant is required, at a cost of about $577,100. A lifetime treatment for HIV costs about $367,134.

We should all care about harm reduction, and there’s an opportunity to support expanded harm reduction in Maine.

The Health and Human Services Committee of the Maine legislature will consider LD 1326: An Act to Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Opioid Misuse in a public hearing on Friday. The bill supports funding for needle exchanges and naloxone distribution. It also creates a medical amnesty law for Maine (sometimes called a Good Samaritan law), which would encourage people at the scene of an overdose to call 911. (Police who arrive at the scene would not arrest people for low level offenses.)

LD 1326 will save lives. If you want to voice your support, tell your legislator about the importance of harm reduction for all of us.

Alison Webb

About Alison Webb

Alison Webb is a public health consultant with over 20 years experience in community outreach, grassroots organizing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based programs, and advocating for healthy policies at the Maine State Legislature. Alison is especially interested in what science tells us about promoting health and wellness and how we can apply that to live well in Maine. The blog describes recent public health research and give readers insights into how to use that knowledge to lead healthy lives.