Drug legislation is under the microscope this month as communities across the country question whether once-popular “harm reduction” policies address the ravages of drug addiction.

Harm reduction drug policies claim to alleviate the harms of drug use — like overdoses and disease spread through unclean needles — rather than criminalizing it.

This approach, which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says emphasizes “kindness and autonomy,” is supposed to lower overdoses and other health problems through education and supervision, make rehab easy to access, and allow drug users to get sober incrementally instead of going cold turkey.

Importantly, harm reduction focuses on “empowering (drug users) to reach their own goals,” rather than encouraging them to get clean. If a person does not want substance abuse treatment, the harm reduction approach helps them continue using drugs “safely.”

Clean needle exchange programs, supervised injection sites and decriminalizing personal drug use are all examples of harm reduction policies. Supporters reason drug users will live healthier, longer lives if they have clean drug paraphernalia and only use drugs under medical professionals’ supervision.

The federal government, as well as many state and local governments, has endorsed the harm reduction approach to fight drug addiction and associated problems like homelessness. But once sympathetic citizens seem to be walking-back their support of harm reduction, Axios reports, because it isn’t treating addiction and making their communities safer.

A new survey finds 64% of the 1,000 Oregonians surveyed want to re-penalize personal drug use, three years after an overwhelming majority voted to make personal drug use — including hard drugs like fentanyl — punishable with a $100 dollar fine. An additional 50% of those surveyed reported the law made their communities less safe.

Philadelphia’s City Council effectively banned “safe consumption” sites less than a month ago. The ban passed 13-1, which effectively prevents Mayor Jim Kenney, who supports supervised consumption, from vetoing the legislation. Councilwoman Quetcy Lozada, who championed the bill, had this to say about people who testified in support of harm reduction policies.

It is disturbing to me that the people who don’t have to deal with the day-to-day trauma that our children and our community have to deal with think their voices should be heard louder than those who walk those streets every day.

Even San Francisco, which led the harm reduction movement, is making an apparent about-face. Mayor London Breed proposed a program last week that would require people to take drug tests before getting cash assistance from the city. Breed defended the plan, which some of her colleagues called “inhuman” and “politically motivated,” saying:

No more handouts without accountability. People are not accepting help. Now, it’s time to make sure that we are cutting off resources that continue to allow this behavior.

Breed touches on harm reduction’s fundamental assumption that people can use drugs and still be healthy, productive members of society.

Anecdotal and empirical evidence shows this theory is categorically untrue — drug addiction slowly and inexorably wrecks peoples’ health, brains and relationships. Harm reduction proponents cannot claim to value people’s lives and simultaneously support their drug use.

And harm reduction policies don’t only permit drug addiction — they encourage it by creating legal spaces for people to use, complete with free drug paraphernalia and dedicated medical care to stop them from overdosing.

Without a significant commitment to getting people treatment, these policies amount to government-funded enablement.

People use more drugs when they aren’t afraid of getting arrested. Increased demand, in turn, incentivizes drug traffickers to make and distribute more of their products. New York suffered the heartbreaking consequences of rapid drug proliferation last month, when a woman and her co-conspirators were arrested for packing and trafficking fentanyl out of a Bronx daycare.

Four children under three years old entrusted to the daycare were poisoned, and one eventually died.

A more effective way to reduce the harm of drugs is to combine treatment with preventing people from using drugs, rather than incentivizing them. The Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions notes 95% of people who don’t use drugs before turning 21 are unlikely to ever use them.

Dr. Kevin Sabet, who founded FDPS and advised the Bush and Obama administrations on drug policy, said it best when he opposed marijuana legalization before the UN:

If you care about human life, and we care about encouraging people to recover and live a life, not only free of drugs, but one fully participating in society, then it should not be (too much to seek a society free from the use of drugs).

Additional Resources:

Governments Can’t Cure Homelessness — Christians are the Solution

Governments Can’t Cure Homelessness—Christians are the Solution (Part 2)


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