Safe Haven: Harm-Reduction Care
What Is a Drug Safe Haven?
For many countries, drug Safe Havens are beginning to prove to be very effective in reducing overdoses, HIV, Hep C, STIs, and numerous other consequences related to problematic substance use. For many in the U.S., however, the term “safe haven” treatment is unfamiliar. Essentially, these are clinics, sober living communities, and places of refuge for those suffering from a substance use disorder to obtain health evaluations, clean needles, synthetic opioid treatment, and consistent medical care and counseling as they continue to battle their substance-related issues. This type of care often goes by the term harm-management or harm-reduction care.
Harm Reduction as the Future of Addiction Treatment
There is a growing consensus among professionals working in the area of addiction medicine who believe harm-reduction, or harm-management modalities are going to be the future of battling substance use disorders as the culture continues to experience a growing population of problematic use.
Gabor Maté writes at length about harm-reduction modalities as well as the data regarding trauma and addiction in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Essentially, his message is that we are punishing traumatized people when we incarcerate addicts and drug users (to be clear, we are not speaking of trafficking or drug dealing offenses here). We have prisons full of non-violent, felony offenders that could be taken to rehab three times for what it costs to incarcerate them for a year in a federal or state correctional institution.
Addiction is most often the result of trauma, shame, anxiety, and lack of connection (isolation). When we incarcerate an addict we exacerbate all four legs of that stool. We are simply punishing a traumatized individual for medicating their emotional pain which ultimately takes them down a road into chemical dependency.
Countries that are more progressive in their views regarding treatment are seeing a reduction of harm in many areas once Safe Havens are implemented. Overdoses, HIV, crimes related to drug use, STIs, and more are being reduced in countries like Portugal that have decriminalized certain substances and offer medically supervised havens of care and counseling. These countries have also worked hard to break the stigma of addiction.
The Benefits of a Safe Haven Approach
A Safe Haven approach to treatment offers supervised care while not over-medicating individuals or watching people resort to illicit activity to obtain unsafe street drugs.
For the resources we spend on incarceration, we could provide safe, harm-reduction environments in this country as well. The U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Much of it has to do with drug-related offenses. Many people actually end up serving more time for the probation violations they accrue after they leave jail than they do for the actual drug-related offense itself which means we are creating a revolving door in the system that started by prosecuting substance abusers (or traumatized people as Gabor Maté points out).
If we as a culture could objectively explore the relationship between trauma and addiction, educate the public in order to remove the stigma of substance use disorders, and invest our resources in Safe Havens of care instead of incarceration perhaps we would begin to see a downturn in what is now a deadly epidemic in the world around us.