Harm Reduction Approaches: The Keys To Mitigating Drugs and Addiction

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Anthony Collins, a third year Medical Student from UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica and a member of JAMSA Jamaica (a member of IFMSA). He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

A drug is any substance that affects the normal physiology and mental state of a person. These have certain effects such as pain relief and feelings of euphoria which are found desirable by many and can lead to the development of an addiction. Said persons are unable to stop engaging in the behaviour and may engage in drug seeking to get their next fix. This can put significant strain on relationships, their health and the healthcare system if not managed properly. One such example is the current Opioid Crisis that’s ravaging the United States due to factors such as the overuse of opioids in pain management. Instead of villainizing these persons, a harm reduction approach can be taken to mitigate the effects of the drugs on their lives and the healthcare system.

Harm reduction is an approach that emphasizes engaging directly with people who use drugs to prevent overdose and infectious disease transmission, improve the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of those served, and offer low-threshold options for accessing substance use disorder treatment and other health care services. It is important to recognize that they are people with rights and therefore should not be discriminated against as many social factors such as poverty, class, social isolation and past trauma affects their capacity to change. As a result, they should be met where they are as coercion and judgement will only serve to work against any efforts made.The inclusion of their voices in interventions and policies designed to serve them is paramount as their experiences will make the process more effective.

One such intervention is the community management of opioid overdose through the administration of naloxone (the reversal agent for opioids). They are distributed to people who are more likely to witness overdoses. People can learn how to use it in 5 minutes of training which will aid in the prevention of overdose deaths.

Similarly, the Overdose Prevention Sites where persons can use illicit drugs without fear of being arrested. They are under the care of trained staff to prevent the adverse event of accidental overdose. Some sites offer supplies, safe disposal options and mental health and substance use services.

Lastly is the use of nicotine patches in smoking addicts. These patches deliver nicotine in a safer way which reduces their risk of respiratory illnesses. It also allows for treatment as they can be weaned off nicotine for further management by counselling and peer programs. These programs consist of specialists, past and present drug abusers who will aid to keep each other accountable. 

All in all, harm reduction approaches have proved to be efficacious in addressing this global pandemic. This biopsychosocial management is necessary as addiction is complex and therefore the treatment should match.


Harm Reduction | SAMHSA

What Is Harm Reduction? – Open Society Foundations

Overdose prevention – Province of British Columbia (gov.bc.ca)

About the author

Anthony Collins is a third year Medical Student from UWI Mona in Kingston, Jamaica and a member of JAMSA Jamaica (a member of IFMSA). He is the Administrative Director for the Standing Committee of Research Exchange and Public Relations Officer for the Standing Committee of Medical Education and the Local Committee of the Standing Committee of Professional Exchange. He is very passionate about research, forensics and pathology and therefore spends his time consuming content related to those areas. Outside of those fields he practices mindfulness and takes joy in the finer things in life.

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