Does Harm Reduction Help or Hinder Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders?

What Is the Impact of Harm Reduction in Asian-American and Pacific Islander Communities?

A recent Filter article highlighted growing substance abuse concerns among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and whether harm reduction methods of substance abuse prevention are properly serving their communities.

Asian-American and Pacific Islander Stimulant Abuse on the Rise

In the article, Brett Giroir, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services official, commented on the problematic rising drug numbers in the country. Giroir focused on drug-related deaths surrounding stimulant abuse, observing an increase in stimulated-related overdoses since 2018.

In particular, Asian-Americans have seen significant increases in stimulant use, with numbers reaching 110 per 100,000—a huge increase from the 34 per 100,000 people seen in previous years. The recent 220% increase coincided with 2018 statistics conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sparking a focus on Asian-American and Pacific-Islanders substance abuse, and the scarcity of information on the topic.

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Asian-American Substance Abuse

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders are a growing ethnic group in the United States. Despite research indicating above-average rates of alcohol abuse  in the community, there are social stereotypes of Asian-Americans and taboo attitudes surrounding AAPI substance abuse. Because of this there is little discussion of substance abuse prevention in the community.

Studies have also indicated foreign-born Asians were less likely to try drugs when compared to Asian-Americans. Much of this is due to cultural influence that may discourage drug use. Despite this, Asian-Americans who abuse illicit substances need the support of communities and a safe space to find treatment.

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A survey studying Asian, Asian-Americans and Pacific-Islanders substance abuse noted Asian and Asian-Americans “were less likely to enter substance abuse treatment” when compared to other ethnic groups. Other challenges to getting treatment for substance abuse in the Asian community were treatment costs and a lower percentage to get help for challenging mental-related conditions, which can fuel substance abuse disorders.

What Is Harm Reduction?

The study brought a focus to Asian-American and Pacific-Islander substance abuse and harm reduction. Harm reduction is defined as the “incorporation of a spectrum of strategies from safer use, to managed use to abstinence to meet drug users ‘where they’re at.’” This allows for individuals to receive intervention and assistance with compassion. Harm reduction aims to reduce the effects of substance abuse, sees substance abuse as a disease, and provides wellbeing and community for individuals. A final element of harm reduction seeks to respect the stories behind drug use. There is no intent to minimize the harm or trouble associated with substance abuse.

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Lack of Harm Reduction Proves to Be an Obstacle

The Lower East side has a harm reduction program called, the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, which aims to be a compassionate safe haven for Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Americans battling drug abuse. Patients receive Naloxone, a substance which reduces the effects caused by opiate abuse. Some of the Cantonese speakers are not aware of the effects of such medications, highlighting challenges with comprehension of the English language. This sometimes contributes to the lack of care Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders receive.

Staff members were concerned with treatment options and intervention with the ongoing presence of communication struggles. In the future, they hope to employ staff who can meet the language needs of patients; however, the work the LESHRC has been helpful. Additionally, there are Cantonese-speaking volunteers who offer valuable communication to the center and community.

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