Raise a Glass to Harm Reduction!

Benoit Denizet-Lewis (himself a recovering addict) offers a brief commentary in today’s Times  on St. Anthony House, a residential facility for hardcore alcoholics that allows them to keep drinking.

The Road to St. Anthony's

This kind of harm reduction focused program, which aims not to reform the (often homeless) alcoholics, but to mitigate the damage theydo to themselves and society, receives frequent coverage in the mainstream press of the “man bites dog” variety.  (See, for example, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Million Dollar Murray” in the The New Yorker a few years ago.)  Central in such stories is always the argument that this kind of program is far less expensive than sending the alcoholic on another trip through the revolving door of treatment– the St. Anthony House website itself foregrounds this fact.  Umm… is that neoliberalism?  Or is that just a canny deployment of fiscal conservatism in order to cover a radical agenda?  Points would like nothing more than to get the perspective of social scientists and historians working in this area.

One thought on “Raise a Glass to Harm Reduction!

  1. I am neither a scientist nor a historian, just a working journalist who covers addiction. Wet houses trouble me for the simple reason that they expose the extreme end of the harm reduction movement: Let them drink themselves to death. Why not? It’s their choice. We can’t help them. It’s pointless to have health professionals or counselors in the wet room. All we can do is minimize the harm they do to themselves while they are dying. Like TB sanitariums in the 19th-early 20th Centuries, nobody gets better, they just get warehoused.

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