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Our Drug Czar Has Gone Chronic!

Drug Czar

Our Drug Czar Has Gone Chronic!

When Dr. Rahul Gupta was nominated as our nation’s newest Drug Czar, more than a few addiction treatment professionals were concerned. Very concerned. Oh, it wasn’t as if Dr. Gupta lacked the requisite educational or professional history, mind you. If anything, he’s one of the most heavily-credentialed Drug Czars this nation has ever had. (He’s also the first bona fide medical professional to hold the position.) No, it’s that a particular moment of his rather vast history was directly at odds with the prevailing wisdom, as well as with the Biden administration’s stated position concerning harm reduction. Worse, this particular moment had significantly endangered lives.

What a difference three years makes! Now officially confirmed as the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Gupta has just officially made clear his position on addiction and — you guessed it! — there’s no longer seems to be any reason for concern. In fact, Gupta’s official position represents a significant “shift in how the country has long approached drug use.”

It’s a two-pronged shift. First, it means unequivocally approaching addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease. Second, it means unequivocally supporting harm reduction strategies.

In Dr. Gupta’s case, it may not always have been that way. At least it didn’t seem to be anyway. See, when Dr. Gupta served as West Virginia’s public health commissioner, he oversaw shutting down its capital city of Charleston’s extensive syringe exchange program. Furthermore, he did so after the program had made a considerable reduction in HIV transmission cases. To be fair, Dr. Gupta was forced to serve under conservatives who were against harm reduction of any sort. He’d also largely been responsible for establishing guidelines for the program in the first place. Nevertheless, the shutdown left reservations in many a stakeholder.

Well, there’s now no more need for doubts and reservations. None whatsoever. Why? Because our Drug Czar will finally be freed from politics and prejudice.

“When somebody’s suffering from substance use disorder or going through an overdose, whether fatal or nonfatal, they’re not Republicans, they’re not Democrats. They’re not living in red states or blue states, or rich or poor, or black or white … they’re human beings that we need to help support.”


A Harm Reducing Drug Czar

The above quote comes from Dr. Gupta’s exclusive on-air interview with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta (no relation). The chat dates back nearly a month, but its content is still vital. It’s also vitally important to the future of U.S. addiction treatment, not to mention if and whether we’re ever to see an end to the opioid crisis. Past and current efforts clearly haven’t been working. Unless, that is, you consider working to mean 100,000+ overdose deaths over the span of a single year.

“That’s the equivalent of an American dying every five minutes,” said Dr. Gupta. Hear that? One American. Dead. Every five minutes.

That’s an unacceptable number of course. It’s also why this new outlook is so vitally important.

“If you’re looking to save lives and you’ve reached a historic unprecedented level of deaths, then you cannot avoid looking at any and every option in order to save those lives.”

And harm reduction does save lives.

Benefits of Harm Reduction

One clear way harm reduction saves lives is by supplying fentanyl test strips. A CNN piece by Nadia Kounang cites studies that show people who check and test their drugs using fentanyl test strips are not only safer, but they’re more careful too. They’re also “more likely to modify their drug use by using less, using slower, or making sure naloxone is available.” Considering even a few grains of fentanyl can be lethal, that extra care surely saves lives.

Harm reduction also increases the numbers of treatment seekers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites a Seattle study that found people who use syringe services programs (SSPs) are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t use the programs.

Equally important, SSPs significantly reduce the spread of hepatitis and HIV. In Kyle Vass’s Guardian piece chronicling the initial criticisms of our new Drug Czar, he found a Scott County, Indiana SSP that sparked an 88% drop in syringe sharing, which, of course is “a critical victory in controlling the spread of HIV.” Conversely, after Charleston, WV shuttered its SSP, IV-related HIV cases went from five to 85.

Do harm reduction naysayers have any idea the toll HIV takes on a person? A family? A community? A health system? Obviously not.

Then again, it could very well be the naysayers just don’t care. After all, former Charleston Mayor Danny Jones believed drug users should be “locked up until they’re clean.”

Sure, locking up addicts might get them “clean,” but it won’t help ’em stay clean, let alone out of jail. It won’t keep ’em alive either. In fact, the recidivism rate among addict incarcerates is 76.9%. The overdose death rate among the recently released is 14.9%.

Yet some folks still insist on arrest and confinement.

Healing Properties Sees the Future

Healing Properties congratulates Dr. Rahul Gupta on his appointment as Drug Czar. We also applaud his decision to consider addiction to be a chronic disease that needs too be treated accordingly. We’re equally encouraged by the good doctor’s intention to uphold the Biden Administration’s harm reduction strategies. “First, do no harm” may not be an actual part of the Hippocratic Oath, but it should be. Just as harm reduction should be a part of any serious addiction-fighting strategy. After all, someone suffering substance use disorder can’t be helped if they’re unable to make it to treatment. Harm reduction helps them survive to fight another day.

Between the reduction in HIV cases and overdose deaths, harm reduction will also significantly help lessen the burden on America’s healthcare system. At the same time it will significantly help lessen the burden on Americans themselves. There’s not a family in the country that hasn’t been impacted by the opioid epidemic. The more we people we can save, the less we’ll have to carry.

How the whole wide world doesn’t yet see this is anyone’s guess, but they will. They’ll have to. The writing’s already on the wall. It won’t be long before it’s also in their hearts and their heads.

How about you? Are you suffering from substance abuse? Could you use some harm reduction? It’s out there, you know. In more and more places each and every day. So is effective addiction treatment. Really. So please, give us a ring. Let us help get you sorted. Build a new future for yourself, and for your family. You’ll thank yourself, and so will they.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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