Harm reduction works for addicts of all kinds

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Harm reduction has been an effective tool in relieving the plight of drug addicts who are at an increased risk of contracting severe infections especially hepatitis and HIV, but also drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA as a result of using contaminated shared needles. Government-run clinics, such as Vancouver s Insite safe injection clinic, have demonstrated the beneficial effects of using this approach: Instead of reprimanding, cajoling, or even jailing heroin users, the clinic provides them with sterile needles to minimize the risks their addiction poses to the health and safety of themselves and others in the community. And such harm reduction tactics have paid off, resulting in markedly reduced rates of HIV and drug overdose cases in Vancouver.

So if harm reduction for heroin addicts has proven to be extremely effective, then why are so many public health officials adamantly against harm reduction as a technique to reduce the far greater toll of nicotine addiction and cigarette smoking, Kevin Libin asks in his latest column for Canada s National Post. In his op-ed, Doctors favour junkies over smokers, Libin points out that a stubborn portion of the population is addicted to nicotine, so instead of promoting a frequently ineffective quit or die approach to quitting smoking, public health officials should be encouraging these smokers to use smokeless tobacco products as an effective means of minimizing any adverse health effects.

Smokeless tobacco products such as snus and e-cigarettes have the potential to save millions of smokers lives, since they appear to prevent far more cancer than they would ever cause, Libin writes. These products don t need to be safe; they just need to be safer, he adds. In the U.S., there are about 45 million addicted smokers, of whom over 400,000 die as a result of smoking each year. The point of harm reduction is not to futilely attempt to eliminate harm altogether, but rather to gradually reduce it and there s no reason why only heroin addicts should benefit from this approach. As Libin puts it:

Smokers aren t just undisciplined, uncouth slobs who deserve what they get. Yet for whatever reason, discriminatory doctors and public health officials have championed help for the downtrodden heroin users of East Vancouver, while actively fighting the promotion of harm-reduction to nicotine addicts who risk their lives by relying on cigarettes. That s not just hypocritical, it s actually killing people.