Viewpoint: To address the opioid crisis, we need more harm reduction

Limiting the supply of opioids and boosting access to treatment are just two parts of the equation to solve the national drug epidemic. The third, less mentioned part is harm reduction, according to Travis Rieder, PhD, a medical bioethicist at Johns Hopkins University's Berman Institute of Bioethics in Baltimore.

"Some people are and will become addicted despite their best efforts, and they are at risk of dying until we can help them recover," Dr. Rieder wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. "We need to keep people struggling with an addiction alive until they are willing to enter recovery. We need harm reduction."

Initiatives like needle exchange programs and safe injection sites can mitigate harm among drug users and save lives. However, many Americans do not support these strategies, arguing that drug users should be responsible for the consequences of their risky behaviors, according to Dr. Rieder.

He said Americans must embrace compassion — instead of judgment — for people struggling with opioid use disorder.

"If we see people who use drugs as people we know and love, people who deserve respect and healthcare, we can save many of them," he wrote. "But we have to replace our instinct to punish what we see as bad behavior with an instinct to care."

More articles on opioids:

400+ US counties at high risk for opioid overdose deaths
CDC data points to 1st drop in overdose deaths since 1990
New Jersey is 1st state to let paramedics administer buprenorphine

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