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We Need Every Evidence-Based Tool We Can Get to Fight Addiction

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6 minutes read

Drug and alcohol addiction is an epidemic in the United States. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports overdose is the #1 killer of people aged 18-45.  The conversation around substance abuse is critically important. Now more than ever, people are desperate for help for themselves and their loved ones.

Solving this problem is no easy feat, however, as addiction is a lifelong battle for many and will require significant dedication, effort, and community support.

The Solution Might Look Different Than You Expect

There are many tools available to our communities to battle the addiction and overdose epidemic, and all of the below are ‘evidence-based’ initiatives, meaning they have been scientifically proven to increase recovery success rates.

So, why are many of them controversial? Because to the average person who has never struggled with addiction, many of these ‘harm reduction’ interventions are counterintuitive.  Some harm reduction measures seem to encourage drug use, particularly “safe drug injection sites,” where intravenous opioid abusers can partake of drugs under the watchful eye of a emergency response team who can administer life-saving Narcan in the event of an overdose. The fact is that users are much less likely to suffer a fatal overdose in a supervised environment (and a fatal overdose is the worst case scenario for the substance abusing individual).

Drunk man sleeps at bar counter, alcohol addiction

Harm Reduction Methods

For someone struggling with addiction, abstinence and recovery are always the best options. But that doesn’t mean that steps can’t be taken to lessen the severely negative impacts of drug and alcohol use before sobriety is achieved. Evidence shows that harm reduction methods can effectively reduce the damaging effects of substance abuse and can provide a non-judgmental approach to keeping people in the community safe.

Examples of evidence-based harm reduction methods

  • Needle exchange programs prevent blood-transmitted infections like HIV and hepatitis.
  • Fentanyl Test Strips (FTS) can detect if a substance (like a tablet or powder) contains the incredibly dangerous synthetic opiate Fentanyl. These strips prevent overdose and keep individuals from unknowingly ingesting the toxic substance.
  • Supervised consumption sites have been shown to be successful in reducing many of the risks associated with illicit substance use.
  • Safe ride programs encourage those who have consumed alcohol not to get behind the wheel, with some programs even providing free cab rides. These programs prevent road deaths from intoxicated drivers. One study even indicated a positive trend dubbed the “Uber effect,” which showed a significant decrease in drunk driving incidents after the popular ride-sharing app began operating in the community.

I have gone on record repeatedly that, in my opinion, these measures would be much more effective if there was more of a clinical intervention required for the user to access the services (like a discussion with a counselor, and acknowledgment that the user knows what help is available, and where).  Hopefully, as more resources are allocated toward harm reduction services, this is a feature we can implement.

Medically Assisted Treatment

Medically Assisted Treatment, or MAT, is a harm reduction technique that has been proven effective for those looking to taper off from abusing substances, particularly opiates. In MAT programs, participants work with healthcare practitioners who administer safe doses of substances like Suboxone, Naltrexone, and Methadone, which are shown to decrease cravings and significantly reduce overdose risk.

MAT programs often provide additional therapeutic services, like substance abuse counseling and group therapy sessions, to support the participant’s recovery.

Naloxone (Narcan)

If someone is experiencing an opiate overdose, administering Naloxone (often called by the brand name Narcan) can save their life. Naloxone is a nasal spray or intravenous medication that starts working immediately to prevent the death of someone who has overdosed on opiates.

Many hospitals, pharmacies, and treatment centers around the United States offer low-cost or even free Naloxone to keep in the event of a life-threatening emergency. Narcan is a particularly prevalent option due to being both easy to administer and fast-acting. It also will not harm the recipient should it be mistakenly dispensed to someone who isn’t overdosing.

Reward Based Treatment Interventions

Interestingly, studies have shown that tangible rewards, even small or simple ones like gift cards or movie tickets, for negative urinalysis results can be effective in recovery. Many treatment facilities around the U.S. practice some form of positive reinforcement conditioning for those in recovery. These incentives help create a link between sobriety and abstinence with positive outcomes and can be incredibly effective motivators.

Re-think Your Stance on these Effective Interventions

The reality is that there is no “quick fix” to a substance use disorder (SUD). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t solid, effective, evidence-based solutions for those seeking support for their substance abuse issues. The above interventions are several lifesaving tools that are supported by science.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse, plenty of resources are available, but not all treatment programs and methods are created equal. Knowing which programs and resources are backed by science and data is vital to ensuring you get the best help possible for you or your loved one.

To see what resources are available in your area, contact SAMHSA’s confidential, 24/7 National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. If you’re in California, you can also contact Confidential Recovery at 1-619-452-1200.

About the Author

ScottScott H. Silverman is one of the nation’s leading experts on addiction and recovery.  He’s made countless public speaking engagements and appearances on television to raise the alarm about the opioid epidemic. He is the founder and CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient drug rehab program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first-responders, and executives achieve long-term recovery.

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