115th Congress can reshape our approach to opioid addiction

Harm reduction is the name of the game, or it ought to be.

Drug addiction is historically framed in the context of criminal justice rather than public health. A growing opioid epidemic has forced legislatures to reconsider their approach toward the topic.
 
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In January 2016, Congress lifted a federal ban on funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). SEPs take used syringes from individual drug users, dispose of them responsibly, and supply these individuals with clean syringes. On top of this basic exchange of needles, SEPs encourage public health by connecting individuals with medical professionals they would otherwise have zero contact with. Many programs include other health services such as supplying hygiene products and offering access to drug treatment and support programs.
 
SEPs are proven to increase public health and have existed on state and local levels, as well as through private and nonprofit organizations, for years. The 115th Congress must continue the trend toward greater federal funding for programs like these.
 
Soon to be Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceWhite House crowd sings 'Happy Birthday' to Trump Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 Trump has discussed backing Amash challenger: report MORE experienced a case study on the effectiveness of making clean syringes readily available to the public. An HIV outbreak in Indiana, and in particular Scott County, was attributed largely to the closure of testing centers and lack of SEPs. Individual drug users began sharing needles and incidents of HIV and hepatitis C skyrocketed. Pence quickly took the advice of health officials and passed legislation to allow for SEPs. Health, related to opioid use, has drastically improved in Scott County and surrounding areas thanks to the encouragement of these programs.
 
This sort of thinking must continue at all levels of government. The mindset must also extend to all communities across the United States as a health problem in one community is not isolated to that area.
 
Current federal funding is limited and finite. In some cases, it also does not fund the needles themselves and simply funds other expenses such as staffing for organizations participating in the effort. A greater step forward is needed. Funding must increase these efforts rather than simply allow them to exist.
 
Floyd is the author of PANIC: One Man’s Struggle with Anxiety and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Public Administration program. He is a project coordinator in the DC Metro area.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.