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National News

Drug Treatment Advocates Urge Use of "Harm Reduction" Techniques at Seattle Conference

December 3, 2002

The Fourth National Harm Reduction Conference in Seattle has drawn more than 1,000 clinicians, public health workers and researchers interested in harm reduction strategies for fighting drug addiction, such as drug substitution, needle exchange programs, and compassionate counseling for addicts.

During Monday's session, panelists slammed the abstinence-only rhetoric used in most drug treatment programs. "Drug prohibition is what causes the greatest harm, not drugs," said Patt Denning, director of clinical services and research with the San Francisco-based Harm Reduction Therapy Center, which helped organize the conference. Denning believes that regarding drug users and nonusers as two separate social groups creates an insurmountable divide that makes effective treatment impossible.

The conference includes speakers and workshops on harm reduction in prisons and legal barriers to syringe disposal. Speakers are providing step-by-step instructions on how to use harm reduction techniques. During one panel discussion, Denning dismissed the suggestion that users must "hit rock-bottom" before they can be helped, and she criticized current methods of drug therapy that use punishment to get addicts to kick their habits. "There is no place for punishment in treatment," she said.

The keynote speaker at the conference, Alonzo Plough, director of the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health, said local politicians and law enforcement officials have "come a long way" in their acceptance of harm reduction techniques. Plough said more resources need to be poured into harm reduction programs. He suggested making syringes available for sale at pharmacies and expanding syringe disposal locations. He also called Seattle's current methadone program "woefully underfunded." Despite an additional $300,000 allocated in last year's budget to improve the program, the waiting list remains "unacceptably long," he said.

In King County alone, where 15,000 to 20,000 people inject drugs an average of three times a day, there are more than 20 million injections each year, Plough said. The five needle-exchange locations in Seattle, where 2 million syringes are exchanged annually, are not equipped to handle that type of volume, he said.

Back to other CDC news for December 3, 2002

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
12.03.02; Kristen Gelineau

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS in the U.S.