Love Expansion, Not “Harm Reduction”


The following article was submitted in response to a guest editorial printed in the New York Daily News titled, “To save lives, let addicts inject”. My response was never printed by that paper, but it is a message that I believe must be heard in the spirit of Proverbs 31:9:

“Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy.”


Recently a guest editorial in the Daily News suggested that “supervised injection facilities” be established in New York City. These SIF’s would be for people to have places to inject heroin in an environment that is hygienic and that has staff who can respond to potential overdoses. The theory is that it would also help people not use dirty needles and “works” which spreads HIV and other diseases. The title of the piece was, “To save lives, let addicts inject.” 

All of this is proposed in the name of “harm reduction.” The suggestion is to give people a “safe” place to take poison. The problem is that there is no safe place to take poison. The reason there are no supervised injection facilities in the United States is that it would be a gross form of enablement that would cause more harm.

Having worked for the last 12 years in a non-profit known as New York City Relief helping heroin addicts, I can tell you that most forms of so called “harm reduction” simply cause more harm. People who are addicted to heroin need a healthy relationship with someone who can help them to stop shooting up drugs, not help them shoot up more drugs. Rather than put money into places that help extend their addiction, a better use of funds would be to establish more opportunities to escape addiction.

Another form of attempted “harm reduction” is the use of methadone programs. People addicted to illegal opiates are given regular doses of methadone with the supposed goal of slowly weaning them off. These tax-funded drugs are given out free with the goal of preventing crime and the spread of disease.

most forms of so called “harm reduction” simply cause more harm.

As someone who has worked with many methadone users, I can tell you that many are never weaned off of this legal drug. Instead they are kept high and unable to work or be effective fathers or mothers to their children. When I say they are kept high I mean that they are given such large doses that they stumble around on the streets with their eyes rolling back in their heads. Many times our staff have called in an ambulance for someone who passed out and hit their head on the sidewalk. While in this state they are also vulnerable to attack and are robbed and beaten by predators looking for an easy mark. Many methadone users supplement their new habit with other drugs or sell their methadone in order to obtain other stronger drugs. I have met people who have kept on methadone for over twenty years. It is one of our society’s worst examples of systemic injustice against the poor.

sean and addict(left) Relief Bus Outreach Team Leader Sean Ballentine ministering to a friend in East Harlem, an area plagued by not just heroin addiction but by one of the largest methadone clinics in the city.

These half-measures are really doing more harm than good. If your son or daughter was hooked on heroin, you would want someone to offer them a way out such as detox or rehab, not hand them a new clean needle. Let’s stop shoving our troubled citizens in a dark corner where they won’t be a nuisance to us. Let’s treat those trapped in addiction as people, not as problems, and throw them a lifeline that doesn’t cause them to sink deeper.

Rather then deal with the symptoms of addiction using various forms of “harm reduction”, we need to treat the root causes. The key is to connect with the human heart of the person who is addicted and show them that someone cares. When they know they are valued, it is the first step to getting the help they need. Emotional, physical and spiritual care should be offered as a pathway to permanent recovery.  We are our brother’s keeper. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to serving in this labor of love.

1 Corinthians 13:3

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Posted under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.