-By Kanisha Hans
In recent years public health has been focused on prevention of disease or high-risk behaviors. However, another more controversial, but very important, practice is harm reduction. Harm reduction is defined by the Harm Reduction Coalition as the set of practices that seek to reduce the negative consequences that result from drug use. Harm reduction strategies are also often used with sex workers. Much of the controversy in harm reduction strategies arises from the fact that they address those in society who are most stigmatized. Many opponents of these strategies claim that they promote or enable drug use and prostitution. Coming from a more practical standpoint, these strategies are designed to lower rates of drug over doses, sexually transmitted infections, and other crippling conditions. It is impractical to state that nothing should be done to aid those who are at the greatest risk for disease, simply because much of society views drug use and sex work as immoral. The same argument was held against teaching sex education in schools. Opponents argued that teaching sex education would encourage sexual behavior, however, studies from the Guttmacher Institute indicate that sex education lowers the rate of teen sexual activity, unwanted pregnancy and STIs. In the same respect, harm reduction policies have helped lower HIV rates in drug users through clean needle exchanges. HIV and other STI rates have also decreased amongst sex workers who are given condoms (particularly female condoms). More recently, and perhaps even more controversially, Naloxone has prevented several heroin overdoses.
In the wake of the death of celebrities such as Philip Seymour Hoffman and Cory Monteith, heroin overdose has become more prevalent in the news. Mayor Marty Walsh has stated that since 2010, heroin overdoses in the city of Boston have risen by 76 percent. Much of the blame on this increase has been placed on a ‘bad batch’ of heroin that has become increasingly prevalent in the city. This heroin is often cut with the extremely potent narcotic, Fentanyl, which is 100 times more potent than morphine. However, there has also been a sharp overall increase in heroin use in the past 5 years. Much of this is attributed to the economic downturn and greater increase in crime and depression. Much of society writes off drug addicts as those who do not deserve help. However, from a humanitarian standpoint, everyone is entitled to the health care that they need. There is no evidence that these methods promote drug use, any more than teaching a high school student about birth control promotes sexual activity. It is important, now more than ever, to break down the stigma surrounding drug addiction and sex work, as they only encourage those who are addicted or engaged in prostitution to avoid the medical care that they need and instead take unnecessary risks. By breaking down these stereotypes, we take away the barriers towards better health for those most vulnerable in our society.