Drug overdoses show limits of ‘harm reduction’ approach

The United States has reached a grim milestone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 108,000 Americans fatally overdosed on drugs in 2021 — a 15% increase over 2020.

This death toll tells only part of the story. For each overdose of fatality, a family is left picking up the pieces, experiencing grief, and trying to move forward — even more fractured than before. The ramifications of this tragedy should be the impetus for Congress and the Biden administration to act, but their silence and “solutions” are only exacerbating the problem.

With only a brief mention in President Joe Biden’s 2022 State of the Union address and little discussion of its efficacy before or since, the public is watching the ascendency of an approach to the disease of addiction called “harm reduction.” Conceived in the United Kingdom in the 1980s as a way to mitigate infectious diseases within the drug-using populations, the approach is predicated on the belief that a person will ingest dangerous and addictive substances anyway, so experts should try to help them avoid the most calamitous consequences.

Harm reductionists tout their life-saving results, but their claims are only true in a surface-level analysis. The Oregon Health Authority announced that despite the tens of millions spent in its inaugural years, less than 1% of funds approved by voters in a ballot initiative to decriminalize hard drugs such as heroin was used to get people into treatment. Since Oregon voters decriminalized hard drugs in 2020, overdoses have skyrocketed by 700%.

In Vancouver, often touted as harm reduction’s beacon of success, while no one has perished at the safe injection site established over a decade ago, drug overdose rates throughout the city have been climbing steadily. The Vancouver Medical Examiner’s office recently reported that, in March 2022, 165 people died from drug overdoses, the second-highest number of deaths recorded in the month of March.

Meanwhile, San Francisco quietly dropped the term “linkage” from the name of a center it opened last December in response to the drug and homelessness crisis on its streets. Why? Despite $19 million spent, the safe injection site linked only 15 of the 20,100 illegal drug users to treatment . Despite the limited efficacy of these interventions and the growing homelessness crisis in its major cities, the California Assembly approved a bill authorizing the pilot of three “safe” consumption sites for illegal drug use.

The New York City Department of Public Health rolled out an ad campaign extolling the virtues of substance misuse with guidance on how to ingest fentanyl safely. Public health officials suggested users should feel “empowered” when using drugs safely, but the reality is that if our public health officials really wanted to reduce harm, they would inform the public that fentanyl is deadly.

Behind all of these efforts is an orchestrated campaign to encourage dangerous drug abuse, led by the Drug Policy Alliance, a George Soros-funded organization. DPA authored a 2019 white paper titled “Rethinking the Drug Dealer,” which praises the societal contributions of drug dealers while blaming law enforcement for the street violence that occurs between rival drug gangs involved in turf wars.

The DPA and other aligned organizations such as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership have called for the implementation of Heroin Assisted Treatment programs that administer pharmaceutical-grade heroin. Ironically and disturbingly, the opioid crisis started with a pharmaceutical version of heroin — called Oxycontin.

The disease of addiction was clinically referred to as substance dependence through 2013, given that it robs people of their self-determination, hope, and self-worth. George Soros cannot be allowed to diminish America’s pillars of freedom. Substance abuse recovery should be our compass.

Art Kleinschmidt, MBA, Ph.D., is the president of Recovery for America Now Foundation and served as the former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Michele Steeb is a senior fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, overseeing the foundation’s initiative to transform homelessness policy. She is the author of Answers Behind the RED DOOR: Battling the Homelessness Epidemic.

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