A new U.S. Surgeon General report on drugs and alcohol has—for the first time—endorsed harm reduction as an effective means for treating people with addiction. Specifically, the landmark report cites the benefits of syringe access programs, naloxone availability and overdose prevention education as essential for linking substance abuse sufferers to care and preventing the spread of illnesses like hepatitis C virus (HCV) and HIV.
The report, titled Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, identifies illicit drug use as one of the most pressing public concerns in the United States and states that nearly 21 million Americans are suffering from substance abuse issues. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s report also acknowledges that many of these people may not yet be ready to participate in treatment. Harm reduction aims to help these individuals reduce their health risks while they’re using drugs.
“Strategies include outreach and education programs, needle/syringe exchange programs, overdose prevention education and access to naloxone to reverse potentially lethal opioid overdose,” the report states. “These strategies are designed to reduce substance misuse and its negative consequences for the users and those around them…. They also seek to help individuals engage in treatment to reduce, manage and stop their substance abuse when appropriate.”
Surgeon General Murthy’s personal introduction to the report also addresses how stigma has made people suffering from addiction less likely to come forward and seek help. He believes that harm reduction programs help break down this stigma, which ultimately leads more people to seek treatment.
The national advocacy group Harm Reduction Coalition has since lauded the surgeon general’s report as an important move toward instituting a public health approach to combatting substance abuse in this country.