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Harm reduction is cost-effective health care

The good doctor should know that these types of opiate addictions are extremely difficult to treat let alone police.

Re: “Health dollars going to crack pipes, syringes”, (Citizen, July 20)

In response to letter writer Dr. Mathews’s commentary on health care costs for those unfortunate enough to have a drug-related addiction, I present the following comment.

The good doctor should know that these types of opiate addictions are extremely difficult to treat let alone police.

Decades of criminalization have not worked, and the judicial and penal costs alone are significantly higher than providing syringes in a safe environment.

The doctor should take time to review the studies on the cost-effectiveness of harm reduction vs. no harm reduction (HIV, Hep. C, etc.).

The costs of anti-viral drugs for HIV and Hep. C over a lifetime are astronomical compared to the costs of providing clean syringes. A 12-week regimen of one anti-viral Hep. C drug is $84,000.

A study conducted in Australia over a 10-year period showed that needle syringe programs reduced the incidence of HIV by needle users by 74 per cent. Many more studies are available even to the layperson to know that harm reduction works for all of us, from low to high incomes, not just those who find themselves drawn into this most insidious addiction.

The harm reduction centres provide more than just needles as the doctor knows full well. Other health issues are picked up by those working at these centres which further reduces the costs of healthcare treatment.

Issues found early rather than later are known to reduce costs. Another service provided at harm reduction centres is education and referrals for addiction treatment.

The goal is to make communities safer, unlike the old days where enforcement and criminalization only led to escalating disease, death and extremely high costs without benefits. Dr. Mathews, in his commentary, unfortunately failed to provide an alternative to well-studied, currently performed, best practices.

If the good doctor was really concerned about health care costs perhaps he could focus his energies on the high cost of prescription drugs, the overuse and over-prescription of many drugs and the high cost of healthcare administration, which now takes more than 20 per cent of all our healthcare dollars.


Phil Le Good

Cobble Hill