He lay in the emergency room, sweating profusely. He had soaked his clothes and the sheets, and he could feel it pooling on the soft plastic of the bed. The monitor chimed each minute, alerting the hospital staff to his elevated heart and respiratory rate.
Nauseated and weak, it never crossed his mind that the used needle in his backpack carried the germs that had landed him in that hospital bed.
Could this scenario have been prevented? Absolutely.
While there is no way to eliminate all the risks of using substances, there are many ways to reduce the harm that comes from their use and avert situations such as this patient’s. Such is the nature of harm reduction: reducing the risk of harm in what we choose to do.
Harm reduction is centered around bolstering public health and takes on many forms. Using seat belts in vehicles is an excellent example of harm reduction in action.
Though we can’t eliminate the risk of serious injury or death in a car accident, using a seat belt can reduce these risks by upwards of 50 percent (CDC, 2020).
The same logic can be applied to substance use, in which services like needle-syringe programs and Narcan distribution significantly reduce the risk of disease transmission and overdoses. This bolsters the community’s health as a whole and reduces health care costs per substance user by up to $1,000 every year (Wilson et al., 2015).
Reducing harm is not an endorsement of behavior, but rather an acknowledgment that people use substances for many reasons, including dealing with physical and mental pain and suffering. Reducing the harm that results from such use does not encourage or endorse such use, but rather acknowledges that substance users are our friends, family and fellow community members. It acknowledges the human right that excess suffering and death can and should be avoided.
Harm reduction services are now available in Socorro at the Puerto Seguro Shelter and at the Socorro Public Health Office. These services, which are sponsored by the New Mexico Department of Health, provide members of the Socorro community with a safe space for needle exchange, safe use supplies, and education so that people who are interested in helping themselves and their loved ones can take more control of their health.
For more information or questions, please contact the Puerto Seguro Shelter’s harm reduction program at [email protected] or the Socorro County Public Health Office at (575) 835-4760.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 7). Seat belts: Get the facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/seatbelts/facts.html?CDC_AA_refVal=httpswww.cdc.govmotorvehiclesafetyseatbeltsfacts.html
Wilson, D. P., Donald, B., Shattock, A. J., Wilson, D., & Fraser-Hurt, N. (2015). The cost-effectiveness of harm reduction. International Journal of Drug Policy, 26. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2014.11.007