Physician, medical student urge stronger federal support for harm reduction in the NEJM.
The federal government needs to take clear, specific action to support harm reduction centers, which have been shown to prevent drug overdoses, according to Elizabeth Samuels RES’16, MD, MPH, MHS, and Aneeqah Naeem ’20 MD’24.
In a perspectives piece published in the May 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Samuels, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, and Naeem outlined a set of recommendations for how the government can encourage the creation of harm reduction centers to combat the continuing staggering rise in deaths from the opioid crisis—which totaled more than 100,000 between May 2020 and April 2021.
“Without dramatic changes in federal policy approaches to substance use, harm reduction, substance use disorder treatment and widening social inequities, rates of drug-related deaths will most likely continue to increase,” Samuels and Naeem wrote.
Overdose prevention centers, also known as harm reduction centers, serve as spaces for people to use previously obtained drugs where trained staff and volunteers can intervene in the event of an overdose. These centers also provide people who use drugs with sterile syringes and other consumption supplies as well as naloxone, counseling services, and referrals to substance use disorder treatment and other services.
In their article, the authors cited a recent systematic review of studies of overdose-prevention centers, which found they were generally associated with significant reductions in opioid overdose deaths, reductions in high-risk injection-related behaviors, and improvements in access to substance use disorder treatment—and were not associated with increases in crime.
More than 100 of these centers currently operate internationally, according to the authors. In July 2021, Rhode Island became the first state to legally authorize an overdose-prevention center pilot (Samuels is an adviser for this initiative), and in November 2021, two centers opened in New York City.