In its first detailed plan to slow and reduce the rise in overdose deaths, the Biden administration emphasizes harm reduction.
That means more access to clean needles, fentanyl test strips, and naloxone. Clean needles help reduce the spread of disease. Fentanyl test strips allow drug users to check the drug before they are about to consume this potent opioid. Naloxone is a drug that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose.
“The most important action we can take right now to save lives is to have enough naloxone for everyone who needs it without fear or judgment,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.
Harm Reduction and Drug Prevention
Harm reduction is one of four policies that the Biden administration says must be implemented immediately to address the record number of overdose deaths. According to the CDC, about 106.854 people died of drug overdoses over the course of a year ending November 2021.
In addition, the government aims to double the number of treatment admissions by 2025 and ensure that patients have access to opioid drugs during treatment. “The National Drug Control Strategy foresees major expansions in access to treatment and harm reduction, which will save many lives,” said Dr. Josh Sharfstein of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The White House is also proposing better data collection to help predict who is most at risk for overdose and to warn of changes in drug supply. It calls for renewed efforts to disrupt the drug trade, including sanctions against individual traffickers.
Drug relief varies by state
Gupta says a recent bipartisan congressional report recommending greater adoption of harm mitigation services supports his point. However, access to harm reduction and treatment varies from state to state. Massachusetts, for example, is expanding the definition of harm reduction beyond Biden's plan. Crack pipes are being distributed in the state to limit the transmission of infections. Legislation is also being considered drugsallows supervised use to avoid overdoses.
“Whether you have access to these services depends largely on where you live,” said Robin Pollini, an associate professor at West Virginia University who studies injection drug use and harm reduction.
Pollini says he is pleased that the Biden administration is including harm reduction in its plan to reduce overdose deaths, but funding is far from adequate. Pollini and other harm reduction experts say the federal government must lift a ban on federal funding for syringes if it wants to expand these programs.
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