Harm reduction as a path to addiction treatment
When someone you care about is struggling with a substance use disorder, it can be difficult to know when and how to help them. Substance use disorders are complex illnesses, and recovery is rarely a straight line. "Harm reduction" is a strategy for meeting people where they are on their path to recovery that prioritizes people's health and, most importantly, their survival.
It is a common belief that the first step in substance use recovery is to stop using substances completely. However, there is another model of addiction recovery called “harm reduction” that takes a less black-and-white approach. Harm reduction aims to reduce the risks associated with substance use until a person is ready for treatment and recovery.
Some harm reduction strategies are:
- Needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of disease and infection
- Keeping naloxone readily available to reduce deaths from overdose
- Using fentanyl test strips to avoid contaminated drugs
Harm reduction strategies like these meet people with substance use disorder where they are and help reduce the destruction caused by drugs. The reality is that no one gets clean if they’re dead. People who engage in harm reduction are much more likely to stay alive and be able to move forward with treatment.
Along with harm reduction, reducing stigma about substance use disorder helps more people find the path to recovery. Dr. Jim Polo, executive medical director at Regence, explains: “substance use disorder is not a defect. It’s not a moral issue. It’s a biological disease and we have good treatment that helps people recover.” People struggling with addiction are more likely to seek help when friends and family won’t shame them for their drug use. Harm reduction is a positive way for family members and friends to stay engaged with someone struggling with an addiction.
We’re here to help
Regence is committed to doing our part in helping members who are struggling with substance use disorder. In 2020, Regence made naloxone, a medication that temporarily reverses the effects of an opioid overdose, more accessible to members by reducing cost barriers.
Regence has also added virtual mental health and addiction treatment services to our network. Telehealth can be especially effective for mental health and substance use disorder treatment because it reduces traditional barriers to treatment caused by geography and time. To see what is covered in your plan, Regence members can call the Customer Service number on their member ID cards to find the right care.