At a recent town hall meeting in Mexico about the prevalence and impacts of drug abuse in her community, Sen. Lisa Keim suggested that, instead of focusing spending on harm reduction programs like clean needle exchanges, there should be more money put toward recovery and law enforcement.

Sen. Keim is falling prey to a false dichotomy. Harm reduction is treatment that reduces harm when a cure is not available. Those who have ever taken blood pressure, diabetes or heart medicine have been receiving harm reduction. Their hypertension, diabetes or heart disease may not be curable, but we can reduce the adverse effects and prolong people’s lives.

Needle exchanges, Narcan distribution, and safe injection sites are all harm reduction measures. Our best drug treatment, buprenorphine, is also harm reduction, since the addiction is still there but treatment keeps those patients safe.

There is no more important goal or outcome than a life saved, and that’s what harm reduction is all about. Elsewhere in the meeting, Berta Broomhall — deputy chief of the region’s EMS service Med-Care Ambulance — cited the declining number of drug overdoses.

While one overdose death is too many, this is progress to celebrate.

Dr. Steve Bien, Jay

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