Harm Reduction Treatment Model Helped 10,000 Serious Drug Users
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Last year, U.S. drug czar Michael Botticelli attended the 10th National Harm Reduction Conference in Baltimore. His presence marked an unprecedented endorsement of the harm reduction movement by the federal government.
“I hope that my presence here reflects the Obama administration’s commitment to continuing drug policy reform,” said Botticelli, who is a recovering alcoholic.
The harm reduction treatment model was pioneered by Exponents, a non-profit treatment center in New York. Since its inception 20 years ago, Exponents has helped more than 10,000 people with serious drug problems, according to a recent post by the Drug Policy Alliance.
Exponents combines harm reduction and 12-step approaches, and shuns stigma. “They’ve been through so many treatment programs and so many bad experiences telling them how character-flawed they are,” said Howard Josepher, who founded Exponents after struggling with heroin addiction and spending some time behind bars.
“Exponents is an inspiring model that should be studied and replicated,” wrote Tony Newman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Love and compassion, not punishment and jails, is how people heal and thrive.”
The program is always voluntary, doesn’t demand abstinence, and celebrates progress, even if it doesn’t mean total sobriety. “If someone wants to give up heroin but still uses marijuana, Exponents views it as a positive step towards recovery and says good job giving up heroin, you are welcome here,” wrote Newman. “They are about getting people into the door, not setting up barriers.”
The program, staffed by those who lived the experience—those who have struggled with addiction, incarceration, and HIV—also encourages involvement in activism, advocating harm reduction policies like access to clean syringes and protesting New York City’s racist marijuana arrests.