A fear mongering attack on NYC Harm Reduction was launched this week in regards to a two-year-old pamphlet distributed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) that details how to reduce the harm of injecting drugs. This attack not only ignores scientific evidence, but also threatens to undermine the proven public health policies of harm reduction. The brochure — "Take Charge Take Care" — is directed toward the city’s residents who inject drugs and those at risk of doing so, and it serves the critical purpose of reducing disease transmission, preventing overdoses and saving lives.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg defended the pamphlet saying that while no one should use hard drugs, the city has an obligation to diminish the risks for those who do. "It’s certainly not in the interest of society to have you get HIV/AIDS," he said.
For years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and other prestigious public health organizations have recommended that persons who inject drugs follow the types of practices discussed in the NYC pamphlet to reduce their risk of harm. New York City has been a model for implementing successful harm reduction efforts that place effective public health interventions above political posturing. Any move to eliminate or reduce access to these programs would put individuals, their families and communities at risk for HIV/AIDS transmissions and other infectious diseases.
Those attacking the pamphlet are out of touch with the reality of the HIV/AIDS crisis among people who inject drugs. "The Health Department’s booklet is solidly grounded in science and public health," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "But the same cannot be said of the irresponsible comments by John Gilbride [Drug Enforcement Administration], Bridget Brennan [special narcotics prosecutor of New York City] and Peter Vallone, Jr. [D-Queens, NYC City Council]. These sorts of reckless statements by top level city and federal law enforcement agents need to be repudiated by their superiors in city and federal government."
For 20 years, harm reduction education has been a vital part of comprehensive public health strategies that reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C and enhance the health of all New Yorkers. Since the introduction of harm reduction practices in New York City, HIV/AIDS transmission rates among people who inject drugs have decreased by an astonishing 80 percent. The NYC DOHMH should be commended for its leadership and innovative practices to ensure that those at risk due to injection drug use minimize the harm to themselves and their communities.
Criticism of the NYC pamphlet also flies in the face of recent federal moves embracing harm reduction policies. Last month, President Obama signed into law a measure that lifts a decades-old ban on states using their share of federal HIV/AIDS prevention money to fund syringe exchange programs, which have been shown to reduce the transmission of disease. Public policy should be guided by facts, not drug war propaganda.
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