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August 22, 2005 - Salt Lake Tribune (UT)

Editorial: Getting Real - The Harm Reduction Project

'Soft On Drugs' Charge Is Absurd

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Nobody wants their daughter taking meth. Nobody wants their son shooting heroin. Not because those behaviors are illegal - though they are and almost certainly always will be - but because that junk kills people. But no parent protects her children by denying that drug abuse exists.

Even the most bellicose of the drug warriors will tell you that. And when the anti-drug crusaders condemn such reasonable and realistic efforts as the Harm Reduction Project as somehow being soft on drugs, then it is the drug warriors who are in deep and harmful denial.

Harm Reduction advocates know better than anyone that drugs kill people. In many cases it is their own children who have died, or who have come much closer to death than any parent wants to imagine.

But they also know that a one-track approach to drug abuse -- arrest, jail, disgrace, rap sheet, deeper addiction -- is no cure and, if anything, makes death from accidental overdose even more likely.

No matter how many laws we pass or how many prisons we build, no matter how many dedicated police officers and brave DEA agents seek to enforce those laws and fill those prisons, drug abuse is not a law enforcement problem susceptible to a law enforcement solution.

It is a public health problem that will only be addressed -- addressed, not eliminated -- with a public health approach.

The Harm Reduction Project, bravely hosted in Salt Lake City this past week by Mayor Rocky Anderson, is in the enlightened public health model of dealing with drug abuse and addiction.

Harm Reduction abandons the pipe dream of a world without drugs and concentrates instead on educating people on how to avoid drugs, how to avoid overdosing on drugs and what to do if someone has overdosed.

The idea is not to judge or punish, just to save lives. The approach wisely mirrors the attitude of doctors who are prepared to treat the results of germs, viruses, firearms, sharp objects and inattentive drivers but who, unlike those who take a more enlightened approach to drug abuse, are not accused of favoring disease or disaster.

There is no shortage of examples where someone headed down the suicidal road of drug addiction was indeed saved by being busted.

If, that is, the cops got to them before the needle did. For those who aren't so lucky, the clear-eyed approach of the Harm Reduction Project is the best answer we have.

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