SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – “It’s not ‘Drug use 101,’ its ‘How Not to Die 101′” says Dr. Jennifer Plumb on drug harm prevention principles.
Dr. Plumb has been advocating for harm reduction principles since the opioid crisis first hit Utah. After helping groundbreaking legislation with pass in Utah state government with bipartisan support such as Naloxone access laws in 2014, Dr. Plumb is taking a more direct approach to political activism in Utah. She is running for a seat in Utah’s State Senate for the 9th district.
Dr. Plumb lost her brother to an overdose in 1996, since which she has taken an active role in reducing overdose deaths in Utah. Similar to recent ABC4 interviews about the fentanyl crisis in Utah, Dr. Plumb argues that criminalization of drug users is not the solution to preventing deaths.
Instead, Dr. Plumb points to “data, evidence, and research over decades of actual implementation of harm reduction principles in high-risk communities.” Similar risk mitigating strategies helped slow down the HIV epidemic in the US. Put simply, harm reduction principles such as free drug test strips, syringe exchanges, and risk education to prevent more drug overdose deaths than strict crack-downs on drug use.
When asked if she thinks harm reduction principles are a kind of safety net enabling drug use, Dr. Plumb said that “no one can get better from a drug problem when they’re dead.” “All human behavior has risk,” continues Dr. plumb, “we have to minimize potential harms of any risky behaviors.” She also claims that until “we can solve the larger social problem of why people are using drugs, we need to keep them alive.”
To a Utah audience specifically, Dr. Plumb asks people to consider that abstinence from drugs might not be enough to save everyone at risk for overdose death. She proposed the likely scenario of personal dependence on opiates and similar drugs after prescription use, and asked “does that person deserve to die because they don’t know how to reduce risk of illicit drug use?”
Dr. Plumb and her brother Sam Plumb started Utah Naloxone in 2015, which helps Utahns get access to naloxone, which can save people from overdose death. “Naloxone should be everywhere, like a fire extinguisher,” says Dr. Plumb. Utah Naloxone also provides other harm reduction services to Utahns, like syringe exchange and hygiene kits.
When asked how she sees harm reduction principles as related to a doctor’s Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, Dr. Plumb had a lot to say. “We sign on to care for folks, to provide better help for folks, and to not hurt them in the process. Harm reduction is acknowledging that this person in front of me has inherent value, autonomy, and worthiness of care and compassion.” For Dr. Plumb, it is medical professionals job to help everyone with all life-threatening conditions, “without judgement, stigma, or stratified care.”
Dr. Plumb says she would have laughed in previous years if someone asked her to get involved directly in Utah politics. However, she has realized “over ten years of work that you can get important, controversial legislation passed in this state if you work to build relationships with people and work with facts and education.” Her campaign focuses on her willingness to help Utah legislators work together and from established research. She hopes to take part in the allocation of money incoming to Utah government from opiate settlement cases.
You can learn how to carry and administer Naloxone and maybe save someone’s life at Utah Naloxone website.