There are many who believe that harm reduction is really just enabling. To many they are adamant. To others they see harm reduction as a absolute requirement in treating the disease of addiction.
After 27 years of experience, having a son who battled severe addiction to heroin, crack and meth, volunteering more than 12,000 hours in the Whalley area of Surrey with those struggling with addiction, homelessness and violence as well as working many years in a shelter in Whalley, I have cared for, loved and lost far, far, far to many people who battled the disease of addiction. And so, I have my own opinion on that.
I give approximately 60 presentations each year on addiction, homelessness and gang violence. All part of raising awareness. Society looks at statistics and while these numbers are vitally important to know, what we must never forget, is statistics are far more than just a number. They are lives. Lives of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, lost because they battled an unforgiving disease. The statistics represent lives of people who were deeply loved. Who are mourned for everyday. Whose families are left devastated because that candle of hope has blown out.
And we can not forget those who are suffering every single day. Those battling the disease of addiction are truly suffering. The ‘party’ ended for them a long time ago. They are not using for the “high” or the “low” – they are now using to just get through the hour, the day, the night. To stop the incredible pain. The nausea. The vomiting. The involuntary leg movements. The cold. The cramps. They feel isolated. Broken. Shame. They are lonely.
Are they responsible for where they are at? Did they ultimately cause where their lives are at? Yes, they made a choice. Unfortunately many choices we make in life are made in the teen years and early twenties. During a period when people take the most risks.
What no one ever thought was that choice would awaken a beast that would hold them hostage. That would devastate their lives. That would devastate the lives of every person who loves them.
Addiction is a chronic and often terminal disease. When addiction raises its ugly head it takes control and for far too many people suffering with the disease of addiction, they are not able to break free. This is where harm reduction is paramount.
Harm reduction can take many forms – from needle exchanges to prevent the spread of disease, to overdose prevention sites and consumption sites that save lives every single day, to prescription of Methadose, Methadone and Suboxone which is an absolutely crucial component to so many in staying away from what was their drug of choice. To providing prescription morphine or heroin to those who have tried absolutely everything else but have not been able to stay the course.
We need to keep people alive if we are going to save lives. If harm reduction methods save lives and the evidence is there, then we are not enabling. We are saving lives. Each day a person battling the disease of addiction lives, is another day with the opportunity that they may reach out and ask for the help that will ultimately save their lives.
Every day that a person makes contact with someone in harm reduction, is an opportunity to build a relationship. Build trust. Build a opportunity for that person struggling to reach out for help.
When we provide options, we provide possibilities.
To deny people life saving options, to deny people possible treatments is just plain wrong. Everyone deserves the opportunity to be their best self. Whatever that best self is. And one person’s best self may well be a far cry from another person’s best self. But we are all different. Our needs are different. Our circumstances are different. Our up-bringing may have been different. Trauma experienced. We have different needs. No one size fits all in anything in life but especially in the treatment of a horrific disease.
What works for one person may not work for another. But the most important thing is to never give up on that person struggling. Remember they are sick. You just never know when they may decide to reach out for help. And it is in talking about addiction openly. About ending the stigma around addiction as somehow being a moral failing.
Addiction is not a moral failing. It is a horrific disease that sadly has far to many people in it’s grip. Harm reduction is not enabling people. Harm reduction is keeping people alive. If we can keep people alive we are giving them the opportunity to access help. To access services that may lead them in the direction of gaining control over their addiction. Over their life. For some this may mean embracing several components of harm reduction. For others it may be embracing one.
When I hear someone has been kicked out of or removed from a treatment program because they used, I cannot understand that. They are only confirming that they desperately need help. So lets put more action in place for them. Don’t kick them out.
If someone struggling with diabetes eats a piece of chocolate cake every day. If someone with high blood pressure does not watch their diet and exercise. If someone is in a car accident because they were speeding, do we deny any of those people the help they desperately need? Of course not. We have them work with a dietitian or a trainer. We get that car accident victim transferred to the nearest ER for full on treatment. We don’t say, “sorry, you brought this all on yourself. You didn’t listen. Get out, you are on your own”.
We have to give people struggling with the disease of addiction to drugs and alcohol that same consideration. We can’t just pick and choose what disease deserves treatment. These are precious lives. And we are loosing them every single day because too many people view those suffering with the disease of addiction somehow less worthy. They are not. This is a disease. History will judge how we treat our most vulnerable. We must embrace harm reduction in all its forms until someone working in science lab in a hospital or university discovers what is needed to eliminate or treat the disease of addiction in a way we don’t yet know of. Until that time, harm reduction is not enabling. Harm reduction is compassionate care for those are struggling and have not been able to climb out of that dark hole of addiction.
Until next time, take care.