Coronavirus

What the War on Drugs Can Teach Us About Fighting COVID-19

We can’t eliminate the virus, but we can reduce its harm to our lives and livelihoods.

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The war on COVID-19 has a lot in common with the war on drugs. Just as it is unrealistic to believe we can ever achieve a drug-free society, it is unrealistic to believe we can achieve a COVID-free society. While case numbers seem to be ebbing right now, and vaccinations are revving up, the risk remains that new, more virulent and contagious strains will emerge, resistant to the vaccines and to the immunity derived from having already been infected. Humans are social animals, and as people resume the in-person interactions they psychologically need and crave, new outbreaks are prone to occur.

This pandemic has a way to go before it runs its course. Even then, we can expect COVID-19 to remain a part of life for the foreseeable future.

It is time to embrace a strategy long advocated by reformers who deal with risky substance use and addiction: harm reduction. Harm reduction is nonjudgmental. It focuses on reducing the harm associated with the use of certain drugs and away from an abstinence-based approach that so often fails. Harm reduction is not a difficult concept for medical practitioners to grasp. When doctors prescribe medications to overweight, borderline diabetic, hypertensive patients who are unable or unwilling to make the necessary lifestyle adjustments to correct their health problems, they are practicing harm reduction.

In the case of substance use, harm reduction uses methods such as needle exchange or syringe services programs, safe consumptions sites, anonymous drug testing for contaminants and potency, and medication-assisted treatment for dependency or addiction with drugs such as methadone, buprenorphine, or even pharmaceutical-grade heroin to prevent withdrawal and stabilize life.

It is unrealistic to believe COVID-19 can be eradicated. Only one virus that infects humans has ever been eradicated—smallpoxand that took 200 years. The likelihood is that COVID-19 will become endemic, making oscillating or seasonal appearances. Dealing with this reality via oscillating lockdowns is unsustainable. 

We have already seen some of the harms resulting from the abstinence-based approach to the pandemic. These harms are not only economic, though poverty is a social determinant of health. Children are losing out on developing critical social and cognitive skills due to school closures, and poor children in inner cities have been hit the hardest. Children and adults are experiencing mental health deterioration. Suicides are increasing, as are drug overdoses. Many illnesses are going undiagnosed that will lead to increases in late-stage cancer and other medical problems in coming years. Income disparities are widening. Pockets of rebellion against pandemic policies are multiplying and respect for public health and governmental institutions is fading. 

We need to move away from an abstinence-based approach and adopt measures that allow us to return to as much of a normal life as possible.

A key harm reduction tactic is vaccination. Even as new variants develop, the immunity derived from vaccination or from previous infection means that a recurrent COVID-19 infection is much less likely to be severe or require hospitalization. Vaccination also reduces spread by moving the population toward herd immunity. As vaccinations increase, it becomes reasonable for people to resume dinner parties, home gatherings, and other social activities providing all involved have been immunized—either with a vaccine or by having survived infection. 

Coexisting with the virus means mask-wearing will still make sense in dense crowds with unknown people who might be carrying the virus. And we should keep our distance from vulnerable friends or family members when outbreaks occur. It also means frequent hand-washing. This might be a good time to abandon the handshake for good. 

A centrally planned, one-size-fits-all approach will be inequitable and ineffective. Government should provide updated and accurate information so that individuals and private organizations can devise their own best practices. Restaurants, theaters, shops, and other places of business should have leeway to develop their own evidence-based safety measures, free of micromanagement from governmental authorities. The consuming public will reward or punish these establishments based on results. The same goes for protecting the most vulnerable, such as those in nursing homes. Public health agencies should provide useful guidance but should minimize micromanagement. 

As hospital wards and intensive care units begin to decompress and the number of newly confirmed cases heads down, this is a good time to think about how to live in a world in which COVID-19 is endemic—one in which viral flare-ups are inevitable. If we look at the future through the lens of harm reduction then hopefully these flare-ups will mean just a temporary inconvenience from a flu-like or cold-like illness for the overwhelming majority of us.

NEXT: Marjorie Taylor Greene Presents Republicans With a Sadly Familiar Choice Between Blind Loyalty to Trump and a Basic Respect for Reality

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  1. That the government sucks at everything?

    1. Beat me to it. haha. Typing it in my head as I clicked on the link

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    4. As hospital wards and intensive care units begin to decompress and the number of newly confirmed cases heads down, this is a good time to think about how to live in a world in which COVID-19 is endemic—one in which viral flare-ups are inevitable..:…………MORE DETAILS.

    5. Your government has always been your worst enemy. The biggest problem is that present bunch of “citizens” never had or ever will have any individual responsibility.

      All we have is a bunch of “takers” and politicians who are corrupt.

      The more government we have the worse it gets. We already have turned the corner and have lost the rights of free speech and the rule of law.

      Adios America, welcome to complete socialism moving into communism.

      1. I think it’s a pretty good argument that the platforms could be treated like the law treats shopping malls,” Volokh says.This part of Section 230 is why it’s absolutely inaccurate when politicians and critics insist that the provision’s protections QScb require a platform to have any sort of neutrality. They do not. They never did. And this is precisely why some people want to get rid of Section 230………..MORE READ

        1. Biden says Trump should no longer receive classified intelligence briefings.President Joe Biden doesn’t believe former President Donald Trump should QDgyu receive classified intelligence briefings, as is tradition for past presidents, citing Trump’s “erratic behavior unrelated to the insurrection…READ MORE

  2. “Coexisting with the virus means mask-wearing will still make sense in dense crowds with unknown people who might be carrying the virus. And we should keep our distance from vulnerable friends or family members when outbreaks occur. It also means frequent hand-washing. This might be a good time to abandon the handshake for good.”

    Obviously they’re never going to let any of that go. Keeping people isolated and afraid of others while forcing them to humiliate themselves by making a public display of believing an obvious lie is just to valuable to the government.

    And if more people get sick because they’re doing things that deliberately weaken their immune systems while wearing petri dishes strapped to their faces, so much the better. It gives them more “cases” to hold over people’s heads.

    1. wearing petri dishes strapped to their faces,

      You know you can wash and/or replace your mask, right? You don’t have to use the same one day in and day out forever. It’s like any other piece of clothing.

    2. The new administration nixes a change that would have allowed more physicians to prescribe buprenorphine.The Trump Administration didn’t attempt either approach to justify it’s guidelines, but argued HHS has the authority to “eliminate the requirementASzv that physicians with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registration number apply for a separate waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid use disorder treatment,” which would effectively cover almost all practicing physicians in the U.S..……..MORE READ

    3. How are there still people denying Covid? You know there was excess mortality of 400k last year right? What do you think caused those?

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  4. “This might be a good time to abandon the handshake for good.”

    ‘Demolition Man’ really was prophetic.

  5. No, we need to shake hands and touch people and see people’s faces. Normal modes of social interaction don’t exist for no reason.

    1. Seriously. I honestly don’t understand how so many people are ok with that aspect of all this.

      1. It’s because so many people are anti-social and don’t enjoy interacting with strangers or even mere acquaintances.

    2. Didn’t the salute come from knights lifting there visor to sho their face as a sign of mutual respect?

      1. Alternatively, it was lifting the visor with the hand to show that there was no weapon in said hand.

    3. As soon as Covid mortality rate gets down to the seasonal flu it might make sense to drop all precautions.

  6. What the War on Drugs Can Teach Us About Fighting COVID-19

    Drug distribution is best left in the hands of private industry.

    1. Nice…

    2. It also teaches us if the government gets involved it will get much worse but those in government will reap a benefit in some way. When people are afraid to vote in person vote by mail will allow who ever they want to win an election. It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.

  7. As vaccinations increase, it becomes reasonable for people to resume dinner parties, home gatherings, and other social activities providing all involved have been immunized—either with a vaccine or by having survived infection.
    Or not be infected. Why is that always overlooked?

    1. Or not be vaccinated and still develop natural immunity. You know, like has happened many times with many strains of viruses in the past.

      1. “You know, as has happened many times … in the past”

        Up until the mid 1950’s, the polio virus rampaged its way through young kids in the US, leaving some permanently paralyzed. Almost every child got sick with measles, some with permanent after-effects. Most kids got sick with mumps, sometimes with permanent after-effects such as infertility.

        Vaccination rid developed countries of those harmful viruses (except, these days, in areas where idiots think they shouldn’t get vaccinated). Vaccination completely obliterated smallpox, which was very deadly – it’s where vaccination was first used.

        I don’t find many people old enough to remember those days before the vaccine who now advocate natural immunity for COVID19.

        If you don’t get vaccinated, not only are you far more likely to catch it, you’re immunity if you do won’t be as good as vaccine induced immunity. And, if the virus mutates, you are more likely to get seriously or fatally ill from the new strain due to antibody dependent enhancement, and yet new vaccines will come out fairly quickly (especially with the mRNA technology).

        Over time, nature will remove from the gene pool people who believe in combating this virus with “natural immunity.” Or, at least, it will remove the meme from the meme pool. You might also notice that we catch the common cold corona viruses multiple times in our life – and there are only four of them – natural immunity doesn’t work for them.

  8. This might be a good time to abandon the handshake for good.

    FFS, how fucking dumb can you possibly be?

    It’s like no one has ever looked at the photos or read the history from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19. They’re all wearing masks! They’re all talking about washing hands! They’re also all prohibiting public spitting, but I guess some things do go out of fashion.

    The Spanish Flu killed 50-100 million in a world with 1/4 our population. It was unstoppable. It didn’t go away until it decided by itself to go away.

    And what happened after the Spanish Flu? HANDSHAKES! MOVIE THEATERS! AIR TRAVEL! MOSH PITS!

    Jesus fucking Christ on a popsicle stick. Abandon the handshake? How inflated a sense of your own time in history do you have to have to think this way?

    1. They all want “I lived through the pandemic “ tee shirts.

    2. Yeah it’s not like there are perfectly functional developed societies without handshakes, like Japan.

  9. “Government should provide updated and accurate information ….”

    What fucking rock have you been living under? Are there **any** libertarians left at Reason, or what?

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    2. So government should provide fake information?

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  12. “Vaccination also reduces spread by moving the population toward herd immunity.”

    But natural herd immunity has/is already occurring in thousands of communities, hundreds of counties and more than a dozen states.

    Although 27 million Americans have tested positive for covid so far, studies have found 3 – 10 times more Americans were infected with covid than have tested positive. With increased testing, that ratio now appears 3 – 7 times, depending upon location.

    Herd immunity occurs when/after two thirds of people have been infected or vaccinated, and the infection risk declines by half when/after half of people have been infected or vaccinated.

    Despite NO news stories, the herd immunity process has been occurring in thousands of communities, hundreds of counties, and more than a dozen states, led by the Dakotas. By the time 10% of Americans receive covid vaccines, herd immunity will have already protected most Americans from covid.

    But Big Pharma, Democrats and lamestream media propagandists continue to deceive Americans to believe that herd immunity can/will only be attained via mass vaccinations.

    The Biden administration is now planning to vaccinate all Americans, including the 100 – 150 million Americans who are already immune (due to a previous covid infection), and the pro Biden news media has been promoting this potentially disastrous mass immunization plan ever since the election.

    1. Holman Jenkins amplified my argument in the WSJ at
      https://www.wsj.com/articles/maximize-the-vaccine-11610494003?mod=opinion_lead_pos9

      excerpt

      Sen. Rand Paul was assailed for tweeting that his own natural infection was more than 99% protective against future illness, compared with 94.5% for a vaccine. He was not recommending people go out and indiscriminately spread the disease. But once you accept that we’re not just one or two preachments away from solving the problem of Covid with mask-wearing, it’s time to be grateful for the one upside of infection. “Herd immunity” was a taboo term when paired with the word “strategy” but needs to rehabilitated now as a description of the goal that both vaccine and natural spread are helping us achieve.

      The U.S. will soon reliably be vaccinating a million people a day but natural infections, by conservative estimate, were already putting a million a day in the U.S. on the path to natural immunity, though only a fifth of them showed up for testing.

      Either kind of immune response is considered almost sure to prevent serious illness from future infection. Less certain is whether either also prevents transmission. But as epidemiologists such as Yale’s Harvey Risch and Brown’s Ashish Jha independently predicted, new cases in the Dakotas are starting to fall precipitously with perhaps half their populations having experienced Covid 19.

      The practical implications are obvious. Don’t spend vaccine in the short term on people who have already been exposed if at all possible. A second implication: Unlike other countries, the U.S. has been strangely resolute in pretending that “confirmed cases” are the measure of the epidemic. Seldom has there been a clearer test of how the media sets the agenda for politicians. The press repeats this misleading statistic a thousand times a day to no real purpose, leaving us only less certain where we stand in the herd-immunity race. Underplaying the disease’s true prevalence, we have (without realizing it) conditioned people to be less careful even as we preach at them to be more careful. We cause them to underestimate their exposure risk and overestimate their death risk. Now we’ve put ourselves in the weird position of being unready to use vaccines optimally to stop the epidemic as soon as possible. We find it hard even to admit to ourselves that natural immunity is helping to bring our goal within reach.

      1. Oh, and by the way, Rand Paul may be a good ophthalmologist, but he proved by that statement the he isn’t an immunologist.

    2. “But natural herd immunity has/is already occurring in thousands of communities, hundreds of counties and more than a dozen states.”

      There is no evidence that the US, or any state in the US, has reached the herd immunity threshold. There are a few folks running around claiming otherwise. These are the same folks who claimed it was reached in Sweden last spring, which it wasn’t.

      Likewise, there is no evidence that prior covid infections (from the common cold coronaviruses or SARS or MERS) provides immunity.

      But, nearly 500,000 dead Americans would be alive today if we had had the vaccine at the start of this.

      Natural herd immunity is nature’s way of killing a lot of people, while having more people to evolve resistant strains at the same time.

      If you have evidence otherwise, I suggest you present it. And no, the epi-curve reaching a peak and dropping back down is not, by itself, evidence. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the epi-curve for Arizona for the last year.

      Good thinking, that!

  13. On Full Measure with Sharyl Atkinson, Rep. Tom Massie exposed CDC’s ongoing public health malpractice of lying about the scientific evidence and inappropriately recommending covid vaccines for all Americans who are already immune (due to a previous covid infection), which denies, deprives and delays vaccines for high risk Americans who don’t have immunity.
    http://fullmeasure.news/news/cover-story/cdc-investigation

    I’ve been pointing out this very problem for the past two months (in comments here on multiple threads), as CDC has been ignoring (and even denying) that natural herd immunity has been occurring in thousands of communities, hundreds of counties, and more than a dozen states.

    Why have Reason editors and authors continued to ignore this public health malpractice? I already gave you several articles worth of data and scientific information, just as Tom Massie did to CDC officials (who admitted their error to Massie more than a month ago, but have continued lying to the public even since.

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