Alaskan health care professionals discussed the importance of using harm reduction services in treating substance use disorders on Wednesday.
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Sarah Spencer, MD, a family medicine specialist at the Ninilchik Traditional Council Community Clinic, discussed harm reduction during the Alaska Department of Behavioral Health. ECHO . project Meeting. The ECHO series educates residents about substance use disorders and treatment. Funding for harm reduction is incredibly limited, Spencer said, as it mostly comes from donations and other charitable sources.
“There are federal restrictions on what you can spend money on to minimize damage,” Spencer said. “Reducing harm saves society a huge amount of money, but the government does not fund it. [Harm reduction] It encourages people to seek treatment because they are in a judgment-free environment. Treatment can also help reduce damage.”
Venus Woods, director of HIV prevention and education for Four A’s Alaska AIDS Aid, discussed some of the harm reduction services that the organization provides.
Four A operates a syringe access program from a mobile unit. Serves Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, and Juneau. The program provides sterile syringes and supplies to those who inject drugs. It also provides customers with Narcan kits, fentanyl test strips, educational materials for overdose, and general information about useful community services.
“They may need to know where the food banks are, and they may be willing to talk about detoxing, or [want to] Learn about treatment,” Woods said. “There is a lot of hands-on case management with our clients.”
The program distributed 1 million syringes across the state in 2019, taking another million syringes out of customers’ hands.
“In 2020, our numbers are down because of COVID,” Woods said. “We had to modify the way we serve customers. We delivered about 700,000 in 2021. It matches someone’s used syringes with new ones. The benefit of this model is that it is more cost-effective, and it encourages our customers to turn over used syringes.”
Woods uses harm reduction methods to reduce the negative health, social, and legal impacts associated with drug use and policies.
“Harm reduction ensures that drug users and those with a history of drug abuse routinely have a real voice in creating programs and policies designed to serve them,” Woods said. “I am someone in recovery, and I think it is important that we integrate the voices of drug users into our programs. There are a lot of different ways we can ensure our clients engage with policies in programs designed to serve them. Harm reduction programs do not encourage drug use. We know That people will continue to use drugs despite the consequences and whether they have access to supplies.”
For example, injection access programs reduce improper needle disposal, which helps prevent accidental needle pricks, Woods said.
“If an individual is using injection drugs, they should be provided with information about safer injection practices and linked to safe injection equipment and resources,” Woods said. “Injection access programs are safe environments for open discussion, everyone is welcome and their health is important. They reduce injection drug abuse rates, reduce overdose rates, increase community safety, and most are cost-effective.”
Brenda Haines-Nelson, clinical director of the Internal Aid Association (IAA), discussed the IAA’s Injectable Services Program.
“We have a comprehensive drug-assisted treatment program,” Henze-Nelson said. “The focus of the program is on harm reduction. We really want to support positive change. Our injection services, this is the most positive change anyone can make to protect themselves and others.”
The IAA also distributes condoms, safer smoking/snoring tools, sterile water, first aid kits, Naloxone kits, and fentanyl test strips, Henze-Nelson said.
“We know from supervised injection sites in Canada, search “It appears that people eventually get into therapy,” Heinz-Nelson said. “Here, we feel very fortunate to meet people where they are. They have faced a lot of stigma, and they feel unsafe in many places. They can come here and access the services they need. They may come for an HIV test, but then they decide Fill out an application for treatment.
Recovery is self-limiting, said Christina Love, a senior specialist with the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.
“For people who have decided they no longer want to use methamphetamine, but still want to drink, that’s the cure,” Love said. As someone who has struggled with substance use disorders, the way I think about addiction has changed a lot. There is a lot of misinformation. Science helps us get to the heart of stigma. Part of harm reduction is when you’re sitting with someone who is struggling, and you don’t have an agenda.”
Kristen Fury shared a personal story about addiction. She said she was addicted to drugs when she was 14, and later became a drug dealer. But she went through a 12-step program to overcome her addiction.
“I used to go to this program every day like my life depended on it, because it did,” Fury said. “I haven’t lived my life without drugs for many years. I’m done.”