What Is Harm Reduction?
Harm reduction is a controversial technique used to help treat addicts, particularly drug addicts. The philosophy behind this method of treatment is to help an addict use safely, rather than forcing him to stop using. By aiding addicts, the caregivers reduce the potential for harm. Although using illegal drugs is always harmful, doing it in a safe environment helps to prevent overdose deaths and the spread of disease. Proponents of harm reduction believe that once a user is in a safe environment, he can make the choice to quit.
The method of harm reduction is not new. It has been around for decades and begun with the practice of giving heroin addicts a substitute drug called methadone. Other harm reduction programs include handing out clean needles to heroin users and providing a safe place to use. Critics of the technique feel that harm reduction only encourages addicts to keep using. In spite of criticisms, harm reduction continues to be used, not just in the US, but in other countries as well. In Colombia, officials are trying harm reduction treatment with cocaine addicts, and finding success.
Colombia – Cocaine Capital Of The World
Colombia is the cocaine capital of the world, producing more of the illegal drug than anywhere else on the planet. Cocaine comes from a plant native to South America called coca. The leaves of this plant naturally contain cocaine, which is a psychoactive stimulant. For many years, the natives of the area have chewed coca leaves for the high, but have also used them for medicinal purposes.
To get the cocaine out of the leaves, drug manufactures must go through a multi-step chemical process and end up with the white powder that is sold in the illegal marketplace. Most of this cocaine comes out of Colombia and is smuggled into the United States. In Colombia and particularly in Bogota, the capital, there is a real problem with addicts who use a base form of cocaine. It is a low-quality, low-purity form of the drug called basuco. It is an intermediate product in the process of making cocaine and it often contains residues of the solvents used, like kerosene. It may also have fillers like crushed bricks or ashes. Basuco is even more addictive than cocaine and is a rising problem in Bogota.
Harm Reduction for Basuco Addicts
Basuco is so addictive and so hard a habit to kick that the public health officials in Colombia have taken action and are using harm reduction. They have created controlled consumption facilities where addicts are given increasingly smaller doses of basuco and given marijuana instead. The idea is to help addicts stop using this very dangerous drug in a controlled manner. Marijuana is used like a substitute. Although it is a drug, it is much safer than basuco.
Addiction experts who espouse a traditional view of treatment believe that addicts must give up a drug completely and refrain from using any other substance. Increasingly, this traditional type of treatment is being proven ineffective. To fill the gap, harm reduction techniques are emerging around the world. The harm reduction programs for basuco addicts in Bogota are already helping people.
Using Marijuana For Harm Reduction
The philosophy of harm reduction, in itself, is controversial. Adding marijuana to the technique adds another level to the debate. To many staunch traditionalists, giving an addict another drug is simply wrong and in opposition to their beliefs about addiction. The facts, however, support this technique. Research investigating the use of marijuana for addicts using prescription painkillers has turned up positive results. The medical marijuana used by these people helped to reduce side effects from the painkillers, helped to manage pain, and helped to reduce the symptoms of withdrawal when the painkillers were taken away.
Other studies also showed evidence that using marijuana could help addicts. One study demonstrated that smoking small amounts of marijuana aided heroin addicts by keeping them in their treatment programs. Another study indicated that cocaine users in rehab who also used marijuana moderately were more successful at quitting than those who never smoked marijuana.
How Harm Reduction Helps
The idea of using drugs to cure addiction may seem radical. Certainly, the philosophy of giving addicts their drugs of choice in a safe environment is not without controversy. As traditional treatments fail to help addicts, however, these other options must be considered. The research and the results are very promising. Harm reduction and the use of marijuana are already helping cocaine addicts, and could help others as well.