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Power of One

Sierra Phillips


You see addicts everywhere. Some are very noticeable, their addictions visible to the common eye, and some are more hidden, living otherwise “normal” lives. But they all have a disease. Addicts do not choose to be addicts. In fact, many addicts are born with the disease. Sometimes it’s an active addiction and other times it remains dormant and doesn’t impact their lives at all. Every addict’s experience differs, as some people’s addiction ravages their whole lives and some are able to break free of their addictions.

In an effort to minimize the harmful effects caused by drug addiction, the conversation in drug treatment has shifted to a focus on “harm reduction.” As defined by harmreduction.org, “Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use.” People who follow the harm reduction model believe that addicts will always struggle with drug addiction. Therefore, instead of preaching and moralizing about their drug use, we should focus on what we can do to mitigate the damage of drug addiction.

Harm reduction comes in many different forms. Two common ones are needle exchanges and Narcan. Needle exchange allows an I.V. drug user to get clean needles and supplies to use their drug safely. According to statistics available from the US National Library of Medicine, one in every six young adults using I.V. drugs in the US has been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, a blood borne disease commonly spread through sharing needles. Needle exchanges help prevent the spread of this disease. A common access point for the needle exchanges is county health departments.

“Each of us can make a differenceand save lives.”

Another form of harm reduction is overdose prevention using Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan. Narcan is a nasal spray that can be used to save lives of people actively experiencing an opiate overdose. After evaluating data of its impact on preventing overdose-related deaths, the Seattle city council and the Mayor’s office mandated all first responders and law enforcement officers be trained in administering Narcan. Narcan training is available at the Department of Public Health in downtown Seattle where citizens can be educated on safe usage and receive a prescription on site.

Each of us can make a difference and save lives. You can volunteer at local needle exchanges, be a sober support for an addict in need, or you can sign up to take a Narcan training. I want to challenge all youth and young adults who may or not be experiencing addiction to get involved by getting trained, donating, and learning more about your local harm reduction strategies. Some may be apprehensive about intervening in situations involving illegal drugs, but you should not fear. The state of Washington has a Good Samaritan law (RCW 4.24.300) that protects anyone who responds to someone in need of medical help, including experiencing a drug overdose. So don’t wait! Get educated and save a life.

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