President Joe Biden’s drug czar, Dr. Rahul Gupta, is fully embracing “harm reduction” as a strategy to prevent drug overdoses.
Gupta, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was unable to say whether he supports federal legalization of “supervised consumption” sites in a recent interview with The New York Times, because the Department of Justice is still weighing a case on whether or not the federal government should allow states to run said sites. But, his eyes “lit up” when the question was asked, according to the Times, and he has a track record of supporting similar harm reduction efforts.
Biden’s Drug Czar Is Leading the Charge for a #HarmReduction Approach. Dr. Rahul Gupta on the verge of supporting a radical shift in U.S. drug policy, looking to copy Canada’s supervised consumption approach. https://t.co/ntXlpqMi5k via @nytimes #opioids #WarOnDrugs
— André Picard (@picardonhealth) July 26, 2022
“Harm reduction” is a philosophy of public health policy in which laws and programs are designed not to prevent drug use altogether, but to make drug use safer in order to prevent overdoses and other negative outcomes like viral infections. Harm reduction policies typically include things like clean needle exchanges, distribution of safe-smoking kits and the distribution of pharmaceutical grade drugs that haven’t been contaminated, according to the Times.
“All of us are enthusiastically waiting” for the DOJ to make a decision in the safe consumption site case, Gupta told the Times. Supervised consumption sites are places where drug addicts can use drugs under the watchful eye of a volunteer or medical professional who ensures that they do so safely and don’t overdose or use contaminated equipment or substances.
Gupta said that without more harm reduction initiatives, yearly overdose deaths in the U.S. could reach as high as 165,000 by 2025. Overdose deaths have surged to record highs in recent years, peaking at nearly 108,000 in 2021.
Four years ago, Gupta was heavily criticized for playing a part in the closing of a Charleston, West Virginia, harm reduction center after he authorized a report that led to it shutting down. He now says that move was one “significant” mistake during his time as the director of the state’s Bureau of Public Health, according to the NYT.
The Biden administration has embraced harm reduction as its primary strategy to try to cut down on the record overdose numbers. The administration was the first to award harm reduction grants to facilities conducting activities like safe needle exchanges and handing out safe smoking kits which contain crack pipes.
Experts disagree on whether or not harm reduction is a viable strategy for reducing overdose deaths, with critics claiming it’s simply a way to facilitate further drug use. But team Biden is going full steam ahead with the concept. (RELATED: Biden Admin Gave Money For Overdose Prevention To … Planned Parenthood)
“He sees the beauty of harm reduction, the necessity of harm reduction,” Dr. Dan Ciccarone said of Gupta to the NYT. “Because crisis times are calling for desperate measures, we need to put all the tools out.”