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Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction and Decriminalization

Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction and Decriminalization

Author: Justin Mckibben

The Global Commission on Drug Policy (GCDP) is an international institution of global leaders and intellectuals working to help study and inform initiatives on addressing drug use all around the world. This think tank offers recommendations concerning drug use and its consequences for societies across the globe.

The GCDP consists of members from various nations, including but not limited to:

  • The United States of America
  • The United Kingdom
  • India
  • France
  • Greece
  • Spain
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Canada

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed in The New York Times explicitly endorsing the recommendations of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and the group has released various reports over the years focusing on the efforts to curb the spread of drug abuse.

Recently the GCDP released a position report on the North American opioid epidemic. In this report, the commission issues recommendations that appear to endorse the expansion of harm reduction techniques to battle the ongoing crisis.

The Turning Point for America

According to the GCDP’s new report, North America is at a turning point in the way that drug addiction is viewed. This is not too much of a surprise, considering now more than ever there has been a push for a more compassionate perspective on drug use and addiction. America now finds itself in a unique position where the stigma that has so long been attached to addiction is starting to be abandoned, and more progressive action is being taken.

Now the Global Commission on Drug Policy believes national policymakers should take advantage of this unique opportunity to reduce opioid-related deaths through harm reduction. In the report the authors state:

“While in recent years media and politicians have been more open to viewing addiction as a public health problem, leadership is needed to turn this into an urgent and commensurate response to the crisis,”

One way that the Global Commission on Drug Policy ideals clashes with that of the Trump administration, currently steering drug policy in America is that the GCDP does not endorse the old policies of the War on Drugs.

GCDP vs War on Drugs

Back in June of 2011, the GCDP stated:

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world.”

Again, this recent report echoes that sentiment, saying that attempting to cut off the opioid supply is not the answer. The new report notes how this approach has been tried before, as the first reactions to the opioid epidemic were to limit prescriptions and to introduce pills that were harder to manipulate.

The report goes on to note that this response drove people to use cheaper and often much more potent street drugs instead of prescription pills. Fentanyl is one of the worst synthetic opioids to contribute to the outbreak of overdoses and deaths across the country.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy says cutting off the supply of opioids into the country cannot be effectively executed until after supportive measures are put in place. This means supporting not only both people battling addiction but also people with chronic pain. The report insists:

“The aim is to achieve the right balance in regulation to provide effective and adequate pain care, while minimizing opportunities for misuse of these medications.”

To reduce the harmful impacts of opioids, the commission calling for the acceptance and implementation of harm reduction strategies.

The Global Commission on Drug Policy Suggests Harm Reduction

So if they are saying that the War on Drugs did not work, and neither will bulking up borders, then what will?

Well, according to the GCDP, harm reduction is the right move. The new report calls on American lawmakers to promote programs like:

  • Naloxone Distribution and Training

As the opioid overdose antidote, Naloxone is an invaluable tool to have in the fight against the opioid epidemic in America, but the price for the drug continued to skyrocket as the epidemic got worse. Making it more available could give access to and train people with life-saving medication to thousands or even millions more.

Safe locations where IV drug users can trade old, contaminated needles for new, sterile needles to help prevent the spread of blood-borne illness like HIV.

Facilities where drug users can go to use their drugs with sterile equipment safely, reducing the number of overdose deaths by providing a place free of punishment for them to use with medical emergency resources on site.

  • Drug Checking

These kinds of programs would allow for users to check their drugs for the presence of any unknown substances it may have been diluted with. For example, most fentanyl users do not know they are using fentanyl.

Decriminalizing Drugs in America

In another aspect of the report, GCDP also makes a much more revolutionary and more radical suggestion that many may consider qualifying as harm reduction: decriminalization.

The report states:

“The Global Commission on Drug Policy also calls for the elimination of illicit drug markets by carefully regulating different drugs according to their potential harms. The most effective way to reduce the extensive harms of the global drug prohibition regime and advance the goals of public health and safety is to get drugs under control through responsible legal regulation.”

With this philosophy in mind, the GCDP made two more drastic recommendations:

  • End the criminalization and incarceration of people who use drugs nation-wide in Canada and the United States.
  • Allow and promote pilot projects for the responsible legal regulation of currently illicit drugs including opioids.

The idea is that by decriminalizing drugs, they can bypass criminal organizations and ultimately replace the current black market.

“Do not pursue such offenses so that people in need of health and social services can access them freely, easily, and without fear of legal coercion,”

We have begun to see a watered-down variation of this kind of strategy with many Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI) programs, where law enforcement is helping addicts get into treatment instead of arresting them when they ask for help.

Better Treatment Research

The report insists that more research is necessary in a few critical areas in order the effectively address the opioid crisis and the overall drug problem in America.

One of the key points of research the GCDP proposes is for finding the most effective treatments for addiction, specifically to prescription opioids. In addition, the report shows support for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and opioid substitution therapy (OST) as a means to preserve life to assist in the recovery process. While these programs are met with some of the same contentions as safe injection sites or decriminalization, the commission seems adamant about using harm reduction to keep people alive long enough to get better.

Michel Kazatchkine, a doctor and commission member, said in a recent interview:

“Repression is harmful. Wherever repressive policies are in place, people will not be in the best condition to access services.”

While he and other commission members are in no way naïve to the fact there is no way decriminalization will happen at the federal level soon in the U.S., they remain hopeful that states or cities will make decisions which don’t require federal approval, or for which they are willing to enter to fight with the federal process.

Overall, the hope of the GCDP is that these suggestions, coming from a group of world leaders fully invested in understanding the issue, will convince American and Canadian lawmakers to take a progressive approach to the crisis.

What could some of these changes mean for those trying to recover from opioid abuse? How could some of these ideas change the way addiction treatment operates within America?

One thing is for certain, in fighting opioid addiction, whether as a society, as a family or as an individual, there needs to be compassion and action. It takes courage and it takes a degree of uncertainty. But with the right resources, there is hope for a greater future. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

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Is Harm Reduction the Future of Recovery?

Is Harm Reduction the Future of Recovery?

Author: Justin Mckibben

Many believe that responsible and compassionate work done by police to support harm reduction has the potential not only to improve public health, but to help heal the damaged relationship between police and public in the wake of several hot button incidents and issues that have sparked endless controversy.

Much can be said about the way that prohibition has had its negative impacts, and many believe that the reforms with marijuana are just one example of how overcoming stigma and combatting addiction should begin with taking a lot of the sting out of police tactics. Is harm reduction really the future of the war on drugs?

Authorities Opposing Harm Reduction

The opposition continues to insist that harm reduction programs are counter-productive and promote drug use. These individuals target such programs as ineffective and irresponsible. Initiatives like:

  • Syringe exchange
  • Supervised injection facilities
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Heroin-assisted treatment (HAT)
  • Distribution of naloxone to reverse overdoses

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) gathered in San Diego back in 2008 for its 115th annual conference, during which they passed a resolution stating that the IACP-

“strongly opposes ‘harm reduction’ policies and supports law enforcement, prevention, education and treatment policies that result in the rejection of drug use. ”

The IACP further explained that in their opinion the adoption of ‘harm reduction’ policies sends a message, particularly to young people, that drug use is ‘normal’ behavior, and that these types of policies negate the value and effectiveness of law enforcement. This in some ways is an understandable concern. Does providing safe needle exchange and safe injection facilities send the message that the establishment supports drug use? Is drug use ‘normal’?

A LEAP Forward for Harm Reduction Advocates

The organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) is a group of criminal justice professionals opposed to the war on drugs. LEAP aims to push the debate and popular opinion in the other direction. What is their opinion? LEAP sees prohibition as part of the problem, because they feel it creates an environment for disease, death and addiction to thrive.

Chief August Vollmer, Berkeley police chief from 1909 to 1923, was president of the IACP, established the first School of Criminology at the University of California at Berkeley (1916), where he introduced a curriculum that emphasized the importance of policing through the application of scientific principles for the benefit of the community and public health. Vollmer once stated:

“Drug addiction, like prostitution and like liquor, is not a police problem; it never has been and never can be solved by policemen. It is first and last a medical problem, and if there is a solution it will be discovered not by policemen, but by scientific and competently trained medical experts whose sole objective will be the reduction and possible eradication of this devastating appetite.”

Vollmer believed that there should be intelligent treatment of addicts in outpatient clinics, and that hospitalization of those not too far gone to respond to therapeutic measures should be utilized.

His views on the relationship between substance abuse, social problems and science, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid addicts, were so derived that now they would be considered harm reduction to prevent crime. Vollmer endorsed a strategy that would have required the government to dispense opioids to those with chronic opioid problems, similarly to what we’ve seen with methadone or suboxone.

The police department in Quincy, Massachusetts actually launched a naloxone program that was originally considered a risky reform, but reports state it has now saved over 300 lives, and is being imitated across the country. The idea of putting naloxone in the hands of the police, who are frequently the first responders at the scene, has ignited a paradigm shift in the war on drugs.

Even the Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) has been increasingly using harm reduction language in discussing future drug control strategies. To show that the change is being actively pursued, a few months ago ONDCP actually sent its acting head, Michael Botticelli, to address the national harm reduction conference in Baltimore.

Some Closure

The truth is law enforcement has seen a devastating increase in opioid overdose deaths in recent years, resulting directly from what many call the unregulated drug market. While this is a sad reality, the truth of it has sparked a rush for new innovative measures across the country, with some law enforcement leaders taking daring steps to address the police role in supporting harm reduction.

Supporters believe that harm reduction strategies are focused on the health of both the community and the individual. By taking a holistic approach to problematic drug use, harm reduction advocates claim that abstinence and relapse are part of a complex issue.

Harm reduction supporters also boast a collaboration of drug policy reformers from opposite ends of the argument to push laws designed to prevent drug overdose deaths. The passage of more Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws across the country has contributed to a growing acceptance by law enforcement of its role in surpassing the old patterns and contributing to overcoming stigma for the good of public health and raising awareness.

So the question stands as to whether the continued evolution of ‘harm reduction’ tactics should become the primary strategy. Or should we adopt some of these preventative measures to help keep the communities safe, while still pushing for abstinence based recovery programs that teach addicted individuals the importance of leaving drugs and alcohol out of the picture? Personally I feel that my definition of recovery is more based off abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and not putting Band-Aids over bullet-holes, but I will say that any progress on the front-lines is worth having options as long as lives are being saved.

Addiction and drug abuse have become relevant in every aspect of American life. Police, politicians, educators and community leaders are constantly working together to try and create a change in perspective, that can hopefully inspire a change in the direction of the country. Don’t be another statistic that supports the stigma, get the help that is available to you, it could save your life. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free e 1-800-951-6135

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