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Saving lives and money

Is it worth $18 to save a life? That’s the cost for one home emergency kit that can prevent a death from an opioid overdose.

It’s one small, inexpensive method of harm reduction that can make a big difference for a person with substance abuse issues. But it can also make a difference for that person’s friends and family, and for the community at large.

According to a background paper prepared for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, harm reduction stems from a public health movement, more than a century old, that aims to reduce harm not just for the user, but for the entire community.

Today, harm reduction often includes programs such as needle exchanges, “wet” shelters that provide alcohol for clients, or free condoms.

These emergency overdose kits, highlighted at a seminar held by the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, are a good example of harm reduction. Easy to use and relatively safe, the kits should be made readily available to anyone in the community who needs them.

These methods keep people safer, protect their health and help keep them alive. But they also protect the wider community.

Ensuring an alcoholic doesn’t have to steal to get a drink reduces crime and saves money in policing and court costs.  Preventing overdose deaths reduces the number of trips to emergency rooms. Preventing the spread of disease benefits everyone and saves health care dollars.

There is a persistent stigma surrounding harm reduction — that it allows people to continue taking drugs or drinking with no consequences. But for people with substance abuse issues, there will always be consequences. They have their own hurdles to leap over every day. They need a community that won’t throw more hurdles up in their path.

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