Coddling Addicts with ‘Safe-Injection Sites’ Is No Way to Fight Opioids

Recovery from drug dependencies requires the decision that sobriety is better than any 'high' — then living one day at a time

Certain buzzwords, phrases and terms do not just spontaneously appear in the public realm, but are rather created to advance cultural, social and political agendas. Essentially, this amounts to advertising messages intended to generate instant recall among a mass audience in the hopes a particular cause is embraced among large segments of the U.S. population.

Widely known terms such as Black Lives Matter, climate change and #MeToo illustrate the effectiveness of this technique. Here is one you may not have heard of, but you will as the opioid epidemic shows no signs of slowing down: “harm reduction.”

Just as one can separate the branding from the agenda in all of these terms, so, too, can one see what’s at play here, a national movement to coddle drug addicts. You see, harm reduction is a catch-all phrase encompassing safe-injection sites, medically assisted treatment, and needle-exchange programs — and it’s all coming to a city near you.

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This boils down to “eat the food, lose the weight,” just as we hear on weight-loss commercials. In this case, though, the wrong approach to recovery can lead to repeated cycles of relapse and ultimately death.

Health officials in Philadelphia this week approved what they describe as the nation’s first-ever “safe-injection site.” This allows drug addicts to take illegal heroin, fentanyl, or diverted painkiller medications such as Oxycontin under the supervision of presumably qualified individuals who can administer overdose reversal drugs should someone keel over.

In a term only bureaucrats could come up with, the drug houses will euphemistically be called “comprehensive user-engagement sites.” Sanctioning such drug use simply perpetuates addiction.

“Medically assisted treatment” also falls under the category of harm reduction. The approach here is to attempt to wean addicts off opioids by, in some cases, substituting one opioid for another to lessen craving of more powerful versions.

Another medication, meanwhile, blocks the euphoric high altogether but requires several days of painful detoxification before it is effective. Here, too, there is an obvious bias in favor of providing comfort for addicts.

Vivitrol, the drug that blocks opioid receptors in the brain, is not pleasant. In addition to requiring a detox process, patients receive a shot in the buttocks once a month. A competing drug, Suboxone, on the other hand, is a more pleasing film that goes on the tongue and is itself a milder form of opioid.

Vivitrol is favored by the law enforcement community in venues such as drug courts and prisons. Suboxone is the preferred drug touted by a number of university professors involved in opining on addiction issues.

While addiction experts and the pharmaceutical industry explain the drugs should be used in conjunction with behavioral counseling, the concern is whether consumers understand the “assisted” part of medically assisted treatment.

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Without citing any evidence, a recent opinion piece in The New York Times claimed medication ends addiction more than abstinence and calls on insurers not to reimburse rehabilitation centers unless they provide medication.

Needle-exchange programs have been around since the early 1980s with the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Today across the country, there are at least 200 such programs, which are intended to reduce the spread of blood-borne pathogens from contaminated needles due to intravenous drug use.

Bottom line: The harm reduction movement seeks alternatives to abstinence.

They are in vogue again, coinciding with growing numbers of people shooting up on heroin and ever-increasing analogs like the even more powerful fentanyl and carfentanyl. Again, this simply facilitates drug abuse.

The bottom line: The harm reduction movement seeks alternatives to abstinence. It dismisses traditional 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and faith-based recovery. AA has not been in existence since the 1930s because beer samples and clean glasses were provided at meetings.

As a recovering addict myself, and one who has counseled others, I’ve seen firsthand that a personal commitment to ending addiction is the only real recovery solution we have.

Matt Mossburg, a former Maryland state legislator and recovering opioid addict, advises policymakers on treatment and recovery options.

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