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Does Harm Reduction Really Work?

There is quite a bit of discussion surrounding harm reduction as it relates to drug abuse – the idea that allowing someone to consume a “softer” drug (or allowing them to use in a controlled environment) may prevent them from using harder drugs and the serious consequences that go along with them. This is prevalent both in family circles as well as the official policy of many public organizations.

Many parents struggle with the notion that their child may be consuming drugs such as heroin and cocaine. To try to control their child’s consumption of these harder drugs, they may condone or even participate in their child’s marijuana use, for example.

Harm reduction is also present in the social policy sphere, where Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT) programs substitute heroin for methadone administered in a clinical setting. Certain organizations and municipalities also employ safe injection sites where sterile needles are distributed (usually under medical supervision) with the goal of mitigating blood-borne disease transmission that goes hand in hand with injected drug abuse – users are not prosecuted for injecting their drug of choice. Some treatment centers also advocate weaning a patient from the drug of abuse rather than using a more traditional approach to detox. Fellowship Hall does not support either of these methods. Instead, our detox, under 24 hour medical supervision, allows the patient to be completely free of their drug of choice or any substitute over the course of a number of days.

Further complicating the issue is the legality of several drugs of abuse. Alcohol, marijuana (in certain states) and prescription painkillers can all be purchased and consumed legally, with limitations. Each has even been argued to have a medical benefit. Alcohol consumption in moderation is touted as having health benefits. Medical marijuana and prescription painkillers are postured as effective analgesics for those suffering from chronic pain. However, when abused, these drugs can turn deadly. For example, all of the legal drugs listed above can cause cognitive impairment and as a consequence result in thousands of deaths every year. Overdose is common and the problems associated with the abuse of legal drugs is nothing short of an epidemic in this country and around the world.

The simple answer is that consuming any drug, legal or not, can be dangerous. Yes, certain drugs have fewer side-effects and are less dangerous than others. However, ultimately, they are all mind and body altering substances that come with serious risks, no matter how or where they are consumed.