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How do we keep people who use drugs alive?

By Aonya Barnett

Safe Streets Wichita

Most overdoses are accidental and preventable. People use drugs for a variety of reasons and only sometimes is that use harmful or problematic to themselves or to others. Stories of humans seeking to change and alter their feelings and mood exist throughout history. Whether you are dependent on coffee, whiskey, or cannabis, many of us have had some experience of using mind-altering substances one way or another. It may be for spiritual reasons, recreational, addressing pain, combating loneliness, or dealing with trauma.

Safe Streets Wichita is a local prevention coalition that brings together leaders from multiple sectors around the county to prevent substance misuse and raise awareness about substance use disorders (SUDs). Our key goals are to advocate for evidence-based prevention initiatives and educate young people on the dangers of underage substance use. Our coalition strives to shift responses to drugs out of the criminal justice system and into the public health system for people who need health interventions. This requires that responses to drug use be rooted in science, equity, and human rights. Advocating for public health interventions towards SUDs through harm reduction can save lives.

Addiction is one of the most harmful effects that can come from substance use. Structural inequities and stigma prevent people with SUDs from receiving the care and support they need. Here are some interventions that can reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use:

  • Expanding access to care and integrating the health care system with substance use disorder prevention, treatment and recovery can address health disparities, increase safety, and improve general health outcomes.

  • Providing fentanyl test strips is an inexpensive way for people who use drugs to check whether their substance contains fentanyl or not. Most opioid overdose deaths can be attributed to illicitly-manufactured fentanyl.

  • Increasing sterile syringe access can significantly reduce the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C.

  • Providing legal protections for calling 911 for people to seek out medical attention for an overdose can reduce barriers and save lives.

  • Expanding access to treatment through medication-assisted treatment for incarcerated persons can reduce overdoses and the risk of relapse, creating healthy pathways to recovery.

Substance use disorders are preventable and treatable and must be shifted from a criminal justice approach to a public health approach. We can save lives by refocusing our public health goals and engaging our community and policy makers to adopt these recommendations.

To learn more about harm reduction and substance use disorders, join our coalition for a virtual town hall July 22nd, 2021 at 6pm on or Zoom.

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