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Biden Embraces Harm Reduction Approach For Opioid Crisis

In dealing with the opioid crisis, the Biden administration is quietly embracing “harm reduction, a controversial approach that could save thousands of lives but create a political firestorm because it appears to be giving up and accepting illegal drug use as normal, Courthouse News Service reports. Harm reduction is a blanket term for interventions that are designed not to stop people from using drugs but to reduce their negative effects, including supervised injection sites, syringe exchanges, safe smoking kits, fentanyl test strips and the widespread availability of Narcan, a drug that reverses overdoses. “The Biden administration has made harm reduction the centerpiece of its effort to address the opioid crisis,” said Andrew Kolodny, who chairs the psychiatry department at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City.

David Herzberg, a historian of drug policy at the University of Buffalo, said Biden is making “deep and fundamental changes" to a bedrock element of policing culture that has been around for over a century. It’s “a drastic change in position,” according to 14 Republican U.S. senators who complained about it in a letter to the president. Harm reduction is “radicalized, illegal, and dangerous,” they claimed, adding that “the grave consequences of enabling and normalizing the consumption of illicit drugs” include “an increase in crime, discarded needles, and social disorder in the surrounding neighborhoods.” The government’s official drug strategy includes harm reduction as part of a multi-faceted approach that also emphasizes drug treatment and prosecution of trafficking. This is the first time that the federal government has thrown its full weight behind treating drug abuse not just as a criminal or individual psychological problem but as a public health issue. Biden isn’t talking about it much because of the political danger that it sounds like encouraging or at least normalizing the use of heroin and similar drugs, which are still prohibited under federal law and can result in a year in prison for first-offense simple possession.


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