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East Phillips Needs Harm Reduction Solutions for the Drug Problem

East Phillips Needs Harm Reduction Solutions for the Drug Problem

By Stephen Gregg Photos courtesy of PHS Community Services Society In the eight years I’ve owned my home near 26th St and Bloomington Ave, I have been stuck by a discarded syringe, seen multiple overdoses, two deaths, and countless ambulances and police vehicles. I have watched in horror as entwined problems increase: the number of people experiencing homelessness, open air drug use, and crime. When approaching neighborhood issues, I try to practice empathy. From the beginning I’ve wanted to be involved in the work to find solutions, attending countless neighborhood meetings of all sorts. The problems here are deep-rooted  and complex. I’m not a social worker–actually I’m an agricultural plant scientist. So I also comb research for solutions to problems. And this search has pointed me strongly towards harm reduction practices and services, practices endorsed by the CDC. Harm reduction has the potential to reduce short term harms while creating space for long lasting change. The city is already funding harm reduction services, such as the work of Southside Harm Reduction, who do street outreach and provide needle exchange. According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition website, harm reduction principles are a set of practical strategies to reduce the consequences of drug use, based on a belief in rights for people who use drugs. Some of these include: acknowledging the realities of intersectional causes of drug use; ensuring that people who use drugs have a voice in the creation of solutions; NOT minimizing or ignoring the real harms and dangers caused by illicit drug use; and creating non-coercive and non-judgmental services. At this point, I can hear countless neighbors in meetings saying, “We don’t want to enable drug users.” And without much support from the city, the primary tactic that comes up is for neighbors to move people experiencing homelessness off a given block, inevitably resulting in them moving to another nearby. [...]