Harm reduction services can reduce overdoses, advocates say

Harm reduction advocates gathered inside the JJ Pickle Federal Building with a message for US Sen Ted Cruz.

"We are here because Ted Cruz has been amplifying that message, amplifying racists narratives, stigma, and misinformation and total lies about what harm reduction is," said Paulette Soltani, director of organizing at Texas Harm Reduction Alliance.

They are fighting efforts from the GOP to stop funding for harm reduction services for people addicted to drugs, saying their services save lives.

"We give out hygiene kits, food, we also give out safety smoking kits, injection using kits as well," said services director Ana Granados.

This demonstration comes a week after there were twelve people taken to the hospital with suspected fentanyl overdoses downtown. Two people died on scene.

"Imagine if they had access to something to test whether their drugs are what they think they are," said Soltani.

Aaron Ferguson said he personally benefited from harm reduction and it helped him on his road to recovery. "You're looking at a person who owes their life to the services the senator we are talking about right now is trying to prevent," he said.

"The biggest myth is that harm reduction encourages people to continue using. My argument to that is no one can recover if they are dead," said Joseph Gorordo, president-elect at Texas Association of Addiction Professionals.

Gorordo advocates at the state level for harm reduction. He said a realistic approach is needed, especially with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stating that overdose deaths topped 100,000, hitting 100,306 in April 2021. That is up from 78,056 in the previous 12-month period.

"While abstinence is a wonderful goal, it's not rooted in science. It's not our job as professionals or legislators to say that we will only support someone if they want to get into complete abstinence," said Gorordo.

Austin police said last week that fentanyl is becoming a serious problem that unfortunately they will face more of on the streets. Activists are hoping the legislature can step in before it's too late.

"Harm reduction is the future of recovery and it would be really great if Texas got on board with that," said Gorordo.

The demonstrators were able to speak with members of Ted Cruz's staff during their protest. FOX 7 Austin also reached out to Cruz's press office, but did not hear back Thursday.

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