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Reducing Harm for Those Who Use Drugs

Although ‘prevention’ often refers to the prevention of substance use before it occurs, the reality is that even once a person starts using substances regularly, we have the opportunity to prevent further harm from their substance use in an effort to improve their overall health. Harm reduction refers to a set of strategies that ultimately meets people where they are in an effort to help them achieve healthier outcomes for themselves. It recognizes their hopes and needs in guiding decision-making and involves them in the process.

Examples include:

  • Using Narcan (naloxone) to prevent a fatal overdose.
  • Providing clean syringes and bleach kits in order to prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis or other communicable diseases.
  • Teaching people who use drugs how to properly care for wounds and injection sites to prevent infections.
  • Educating people who use drugs on how to prevent an overdose.

 

Addiction often leads individuals with substance use disorders to become more and more isolated from others; harm reduction focuses on building relationships with people who use drugs so that they are no longer isolated. It also increases the likelihood that individuals will engage in healthcare services and possibly treatment for their substance use disorder. Additionally, it helps keep healthcare costs down because if people are healthier when they engage in services, there will be less utilization of higher-cost healthcare procedures. Ultimately, everyone benefits when there are lower rates of communicable diseases and fatal overdoses in a community.

 


Steps to Reduce the Risk of Overdose

Natick 180 encourages community members to educate themselves, family members, friends and neighbors about how they help save a life.

 

Here are a few tips and resources to reduce the risk of a fatal overdose:

 

1. Assume that all street drugs contain fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be lethal in very small amounts.

 

2. Never use alone.

And make a plan with a friend about what to do if you witness an overdose. The Good Samaritan Law provides immunity from prosecution of a controlled substance if a person seeks medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug-related overdose. (See M.G.L. ch.94c 344a.)

 

3. If you are at risk of witnessing or experiencing an opioid overdose, make sure to have Narcan (a.k.a. Naloxone) handy, a nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose.

You might be at high risk of witnessing or experiencing an overdose if you are in recovery, are actively using opioids or are the family member or close friend of someone with a history of opioid use disorder. Narcan can be obtained for free from:

The Natick Health Department at Natick Town Hall, 13 E. Central Street (2nd floor). Please call 508-647-6460 to make a confidential appointment.

Program RISE at Justice Resource Institute (JRI), 1 Grant Street (Suite 100), Framingham. Call 508-935-2960 or walk-in (Mon & Fri 8:30 AM-3:30 PM; Tues-Thurs 8:30 AM-6:30 PM)

Learn to Cope Meetings, every Wednesday evening 7:00-9:00 PM at the Edward M. Kennedy Community Health Center, 354 Waverly Street, Framingham (3rd Floor Conference Room C on right). www.learn2cope.org

Additionally, anyone in the general public can request Narcan at local pharmacies (prescription co-pays apply). Call ahead of time to make sure that the pharmacy has Narcan in stock and that a pharmacist can train you when you pick it up.

 

4. Do not mix substances.

Mixing opioids with substances such as alcohol, benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Klonopin and Valium), or cocaine increases risk of overdose.

 

5. Use less after any period of abstinence or decreased use.

Individuals leaving treatment, hospitalization or incarceration can be at high risk of overdose. Even a few days away could lower your tolerance.

 

6. When using, do not lock doors behind you.

Locked doors can prevent help from getting to you quickly.

 

7. Check-in with someone who is struggling with addiction by phone or text.

Share information with them about how to keep themselves safe, and let them know that you care about them.

 

8. Learn more about effective ways to save a life.

At www.mass.gov/service-details/call-9-1-1 or http://www.natick180.org/about-prevention/harm-reduction/what-is-narcan-how-to-get-trained.

 

 

Additionally,

if you or someone you know has lost a loved one to overdose, please know that you are
not alone. The Natick community has resources available to support you:

  • The Journey Bereavement Group meets on the last Tuesday of each month, 7:00-8:30 PM at the Natick Community Senior Center (117 E. Central Street, Rm. 201). Contact Kathryn Stygles
    Peirce at 774-286-9986 or peirceka@gmail.com.
  • The 6th Annual Interfaith Vigil for Those Who Lost Their Lives to Addiction will take place on Sunday, December 8th, 7:00-8:30 PM at the First Congregational Church of Natick (2 E. Central Street).
  • For more information and resources about grief after a loss due to substance use, go to www.natick180.org/i-have-lost-someone or contact Katie Sugarman at csugarman@natickma.org.