- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2022

Cure-all solutions are popular for good reason — they solve problems in a hurry.

Governments pursue Holy Grail solutions for complex issues like fighting drug addiction and climate change. However, this approach is rarely successful in solving the problems. Perhaps it’s time to focus on practical solutions that chip away at the risks we face every day.

That’s the thinking behind a concept known as harm reduction, a coordinated approach that involves lifelong and proactive strategies to bolster public health.

“We have to face the fact that we are playing the role of a modern Don Quixote all over the world, resulting in wasted energy and excessive stigmatization that is counterproductive and devoid of solidarity. Today, more than ever, we need to take a close look at all the health aspects in our country to assess the current situation, diagnose the urgent needs and, above all, provide practical and reliable responses,” Dr. Imane Kendili, a Moroccan psychiatrist and addiction specialist, and editor Abdelhak Najib told The Washington Times.

They will discuss their new book, “Harm Reduction — The Manifesto,” in a panel discussion Wednesday co-hosted by The Times and CollaborateUp.

The virtual event titled, “Practical not Magical: Harm Reduction and Public Health,” is open to the public and will bring together several experts to discuss practical solutions for climate change, public health and substance abuse prevention.

The event will be presented with support from the Moroccan Association of Addiction Medicine and Associated Pathologies (MAPA), Aphorisme Consulting, Orion Media, the R Street Institute and Philip Morris International. The Times and CollaborateUp plan to hold a second event on harm reduction in February.

Dr. Jallal Toufiq, a Moroccan national and head of the National Centre for Drug Abuse Prevention and Research, collaborated with Dr. Kendili and Mr. Najib on their 380-page book and will join the discussion.

Others on the discussion panel include Kye Young, vice president of partnerships and development at the Foundation for Climate Restoration; Mazen Saleh, policy director for Integrated Harm Reduction at the R Street Institute; and retired police Lt. Diane Goldstein, executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership.

The concept of harm reduction can be as simple as wearing a seat belt in a vehicle or donning a helmet when riding a bike or skiing. But it is often brought up in the context of substance abuse and evolving attitudes around the war on drugs.

“While the intentions of governments may be noble in addressing drug use and other risky behaviors, the first point of action should be a realization that silver-bullet solutions do not exist,” Mr. Saleh said. “Policymakers often attempt prohibition but history has shown that never works. From the folly of alcohol prohibition to the abject failure of the ‘war on drugs’ that neither reduced the nation’s drug supply nor the number of overdose deaths.”

He pointed to a “war on vaping” as a contemporary example of the phenomenon. Some policymakers are pushing for a crackdown on e-cigarette use while some adult smokers say limiting access to the products will make it difficult for them to wean off more dangerous nicotine products.

“Though the FDA — through a stringent regulatory review — approved the marketing of a class of vapes as beneficial to the protection of public health, state governments are moving to ban them entirely,” Mr. Saleh said. “Individuals tend to bear the brunt of bad policy, whether it is regressive taxation for reduced-risk tobacco products or incarceration without access to treatment for those suffering from substance use disorder.”

Lt. Goldstein, meanwhile, will discuss how law enforcement efforts to combat illegal drugs must be paired with public health strategies that minimize risk and the loss of life.

“We have invested so much into punitive criminal, moralistic interventions instead of treating substance abuse from a public health lens. I think ultimately if you look at the role of law enforcement it is supposed to be about saving lives,” said Lt. Goldstein, who ran narcotics and gang units during her police career in California but also saw the other side of the coin, as her brother coped with substance abuse.

The U.S. is increasingly diverting addicted people to treatment instead of incarceration while adopting harm reduction strategies such as safe-consumption sites, needle exchange programs and the distribution of testing strips so that users can make sure they are not injecting deadly fentanyl.

The topic of harm reduction is particularly salient given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to the authors. People around the world have become adept at reducing potential harm from the coronavirus, such as the use of masks in combination with pharmaceutical strategies to try and slow the spread and rate of disease, they said.

“As we have seen, there is no miracle solution. Powerful states have been defeated in the face of the coronavirus. Look at what is happening in the United States, the most affected country in the world,” Dr. Kendili and Mr. Najib said.

To avoid the next pandemic, they said, “what should not be done and repeated as a mistake is to invest trillions of dollars in the military industry instead of investing this money in health and scientific research to find viable and reliable solutions for a humanity held in check by a virus that has shown how fragile and vulnerable the world is.”

REGISTER: Practical not Magical: Harm Reduction and Public Health 

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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