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How Does a Harm Reduction / Needle Exchange Program Work?

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Dr. Sydnee Smirl McElroy explains how Harm Reduction programs work, why they are so beneficial to our communities, and how you can help save lives.

One of the other things that i’m involved with currently in huntington is i serve on the advisory board for the harm reduction program at the cabell huntington health department um and i i’m i feel really lucky to have learned about harm reduction and become part of that world it wasn’t something that i was taught in medical school although i have made efforts to

Change that i now teach that to medical students so we’re trying to fix that that whole in medical education um but i love to talk about it with people because i think it’s misunderstood it’s a nuanced topic and that’s always hard in quick discourse when you’re making a commercial or just a sentence or two it’s really hard to explain that stuff it’s not a twitter

Explanation it’s longer than that so the principles of harm reduction are something that we practice every day basically the idea is we’re going to do things in life that are risky we all do instead of saying never take any risks and this is the advice we probably give our kids take precautions when you take risks make calculated risks is it worth it and if i’m going

To do it how can i keep myself as safe as possible the best example of harm reduction is the seat belt in order to avoid ever being in a motor vehicle accident just don’t get in a car but that’s a really ridiculous piece of advice to give someone don’t ever get in a car for most of us that is not feasible we got places to go we got things to do so we’re gonna get in

A car but we wear a seat belt because that reduces harm that might happen if we do get in a motor vehicle accident when we’re talking about the harm reduction program at the health department it’s exactly the same thing people are using drugs this is going to happen yes we have great recovery efforts and we have addiction sciences and all kinds of programs to help

Those who are struggling with substance use disorder in our community but it can often take people multiple times to quit using drugs it actually it takes them multiple times but fewer times than it takes people to quit smoking on average i always think that’s an interesting thing people who are trying to quit smoking it will usually take them about nine times to

Do so people who are trying to stop using drugs it usually takes about six times so the thing is it’s a work in progress it’s not something that’s going to happen all at once and while people are on that journey to recovery we want to keep them alive we want to keep them safe and that’s what the harm reduction program does we provide people with lots of information

About how to avoid infections that you can commonly get when you’re using substances especially injection drugs we provide people with life-saving naloxone or narcan a lot of people know it as which is an overdose reversal drug which anyone can learn i encourage you to go to the health department you can be trained you can come to harmony house we can train you to

Administer it right there it’s a it’s a most people use a nasal spray it’s easy to use and you can save a life literally save someone’s life and i always like to say we can’t get people into recovery if they’re not alive for us to help them get there so let’s keep them alive until they’re ready to make that decision and provide them with that support that says i

Care about you your life has value you matter and you are worth the time and effort to getting you to that place where you’re ready for recovery um the most controversial piece that everybody always wants to focus on is the syringe service program part of a harm reduction program and again it’s a whole program not only do we provide all of these things we provide

Recovery coaches we provide sti testing and screen sexually transmitted infection testing and screening we provide access to do you need to see a physician for family planning services just for wellness services for preventive health care services for vaccines all of that testing for hiv or hepatitis all of that is part of it so it’s all inclusive services and

That does involve exchanging uh syringes so the best way to reduce harm when someone is using an injection drug is if they use a clean syringe every time when you reuse syringes you put yourself at huge risk for bacterial infections that can put you in the hospital little for weeks and weeks which can be fatal unfortunately in some cases and then the other thing

That it reduces is the sharing of needles when people share syringes they can spread hiv they can spread hepatitis these are things we’re seeing in our community already and from a public health perspective one of the best things we can do for the entire health of the community is to reduce the transmission of those blood-borne pathogens by preventing the sharing

Of needles and that’s exactly what this program does and i know it seems counterintuitive the first time it was explained to me i thought wait is this really the best way to help people if we want them to stop the evidence shows it it is the best way to help people if we want them to stop if eventually we want people to get the to the point where they’re ready to

Enter recovery we have to keep them alive and well and safe and show them that they are cared for and then they’re more likely to do so there’s science behind it i would encourage anybody who has questions first of all reach out to me i would love to talk to you about it i have talked to many people about it and gotten many people to understand so i would love

To talk to you about it and secondly our harm reduction program at the health department is always happy to give you tours and answer questions they you know we understand that it doesn’t immediately seem like the right thing to do but we also know that the science tells us it is and from a morality standpoint i believe it is the right thing to do i want to help

Everyone right where they are i want to meet them where they are and get them to the level of health that they deserve which is for all of us to be healthy and happy and live full lives so please reach out if you have questions because because i could talk harm reduction all day

Transcribed from video
How Does a Harm Reduction / Needle Exchange Program Work? By Sydnee McElroy for WV