Q&A | Why harm reduction could help win the fight against fentanyl

published on October 22, 2016 in CBC News

Drug testing kits, safe injection sites keep people alive so they can enter treatment, says HIV researcher

Dr. M-J Milloy, a research scientist with the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says harm reduction efforts could be an important first line of defence in controlling the abuse of fentanyl and other opioids.

Winnipeg police believe fentanyl is responsible for at least three deaths so far this month. Police also suspect the powerful opioid was ingested by an infant, sending the child to hospital in critical condition last week.

In an effort to address the crisis, Winnipeg police officers plan to carry the overdose remedy naloxone and a pharmacy in the city will be selling $5 fentanyl testing kits. The Winnipeg group Street Connections hands out about 500,000 clean needles in the city a year.

In a recent interview with CBC Ismaila Alfa, Milloy said efforts like this save lives and can enable drug users to seek treatment. Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Alfa: Why is harm reduction an important part of treating addictions?

Milloy: Well, it really grew out of the beginnings of the HIV pandemic back in the 1980s. Attempts to stop the transmission of the virus were really floundering because people would not take up the interventions that were offered.

Out of that grew the recognition that it’s important, not only to encourage people to stop the dangerous misuse of some substances, but also try to reduce the harms that can come from the use of those substances.

So, since then, we’ve seen things like, for example, needle exchange programs which serve to reduce the risk of HIV infection and things like opioid treatments which try to lower the risk of death and other problems that come from the use of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.

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