By Noah Weiland, NY Times Feb. 10, 2023, 5:00 a.m. ET
President Biden has endorsed “harm reduction,” which aims to cut down on overdoses by encouraging safer drug use. But the organizations carrying out that strategy are severely underfunded.
OSCEOLA, Iowa — So many of Deborah Krauss’s friends and neighbors have died of drug overdoses during the pandemic that she said she felt as if she had been living inside of a dream. The longest she has gone without someone dying, she noted, is three weeks. Her calendar grew cluttered with funerals.
“I lost count at 40,” she recalled on a recent evening in a Des Moines office as she organized supplies to help people consume drugs more safely. “And it just keeps happening.”
The next day, Ms. Krauss was on the road, parked outside a Walmart in the small Iowa town of Osceola, her trunk brimming with boxes of syringes, fentanyl test strips and overdose-reversing medication. A former hair stylist, she recalled the stress of grooming an ex-boyfriend’s facial hair to make him presentable at his funeral after he died from an overdose in 2018.
Ms. Krauss, 38, is one of the few practitioners in Iowa of a public health strategy known as “harm reduction,” a wide-ranging set of policies that President Biden and many federal and local health officials and physicians have made central to their efforts to curtail record-breaking overdose deaths. The strategy does not seek to cut people off from drug use. Instead, it aims to give them tools to use drugs in a safer manner, like the supplies in Ms. Krauss’s trunk.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Mr. Biden, the first president to endorse the strategy, highlighted the federal government’s attention to some of the core features of harm reduction work, including a provision in a recently enacted spending package that makes it easier for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, an effective addiction medication that Ms. Krauss works to get to drug users. During his speech, Mr. Biden recognized the father of a 20-year-old from New Hampshire who died from a fentanyl overdose, citing the more than 70,000 Americans dying each year from the potent synthetic .