Harm Reduction Programs (HRPs) encourage people to use drugs. Reality:
HRPs do not encourage drug use. . We know that some people are going to continue using drugs despite the consequences and whether or not they have access to supplies. HRPs offer free supplies so financial barriers do not discourage people from safer practices.
Another benefit of Harm Reduction Programs, supported by research, is the link with health care services and drug treatment programs that develops for this hard-to-reach population. For some of these people, this may be the only way they access health care services as well as counseling and social services. Myth:
My tax dollars are being wasted on drug users. Reality:
HRPs have been shown to reduce the spread of disease as well as other serious health conditions. Having access to clean needles and other supplies decreases the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV, and hepatitis B and C. When we think about the cost of prevention we also need to look at the cost of treatment. The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control estimates that the average lifetime cost for hepatitis C per patient, from time of diagnosis to death, including medical costs and the economic loss for that individual, is in the million dollar range.
It is illegal to give out needles. Reality:
Distribution of needles and drug equipment is not a crime. Police and health care providers share in the understanding that HRPs use a harm reduction strategy. HRP providers often have an agreement with the local police that allows the public access to services without interference.
Having a HRP in my community means there will be more needles found in school yards, playgrounds and public parks. Reality:
It is rare for used needles to be found in public areas but when they are, it can be very alarming. HRPs encourage users to return used needles to the program for safe disposal by providing free disposal containers. Staff also provide information about other less risky methods of storing and disposing of used needles. With more options available, needles are less likely to be discarded unsafely.
For more information call the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit 705-721-7520 or toll free at 1-877-721-7520 and ask to speak with a Nurse about Harm Reduction or Needle Exchange