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Why Vaping, Chronic Pain Patient, and Harm Reduction Advocates Need to Join Hands

As of now, the phrase “harm reduction” is generally associated with illicit drugs — particularly “hard” drugs like opioids (e.g., heroin) or “radical,” “hardcore” things like injecting drugs. 

Although not watering down our cause and staying true to long-term, often-problematic drug users like me is something virtually all harm reductionists share, with this idea, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

Why haven’t we begun associating harm reduction with vaping or chronic pain patient advocacy on a widespread scale yet? Some of us have, but the vast majority of us haven’t. These two associations, in particular, will launch the societal acceptance of “harm reduction” into the god damn exosphere. In other words, regularly associating our cause with chronic pain patient advocacy and vaping will improve our advocacy efforts big-fuckin’-time. And, also, the tenets we share as harm reductionists will help improve chronic pain patient advocacy and vaping — this isn’t a one-sided affair.

But First, a Definition — What Is Harm Reduction?

There’s no widely-accepted definition of “harm reduction” (HR), though I define it as things that reduce harm done to or experienced by drug-involved people (e.g., active users, dealers, people in recovery, family members of addicts). Generally, it consists of doing things to help active drug users like me.

How Do We Benefit From Associating Ourselves With Patient Advocacy and Vaping?

Let’s face it — HR is generally associated with “hard” drugs and radical ideas. Although most, if not all, of the tenets we support as harm reductionists are based in academic research, evidence, and the oh-so-beautiful scientific process, our movement is still fringe because of the harsh stigma associated with our nature of work — largely-illicit drugs!

Although many Americans are on board with the idea of rolling back drug possession laws and even full-fledged cannabis legalization, most of us aren’t comfortable with the idea of non-cannabis drug policy reform — especially not with “hard” drugs — let alone doing things that actively help current drug users keep using drugs in ways that we perceive as problematic (i.e., running syringe exchanges, supervising consumption to respond to overdose). 

Don’t get it twisted — I still agree with these things. However, we can’t deny that most Americans don’t agree.

We harm reductionists benefit from associating our cause — as well as drug policy reform and drug user advocacy — with vaping and chronic pain patient advocacy by:

  • Expanding our scope.
  • Being viewed as reasonable.

I’m sure there are some other ways converging our interests benefits us, but these are the primary two that come to mind.

How Do We Help Vaping and Chronic Pain Patient Advocacy?

Again, this relationship isn’t parasitic in nature — we both benefit from this ordeal. Rather than acting as the blood-sucking leaches every mammal just loves, I like to think of us as altruistic cleaner shrimps that rid acquatic creatures of parasites.

Although not entirely, harm reduction is largely concerned with practical actions that have real-world benefits as opposed to vague ideas that are often pushed solely by voice or writing and take many decades to pay off. While vaping is very much a practical, real-world thing that has near-immediate utility, chronic pain patient advocacy is often the opposite. Or so it seems. 

Vaping, in general, is viewed as most people as something that reduces harm from already-legal tobacco products. Tobacco-associated stigma is low compared to other drugs. Harm reduction is viewed as more of a “drug thing” than vaping. In 2019 — and still today, though it’s overshadowed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — vaping took a reputation hit by being associated with illicit counterfeit cannabis concentrate cartridges. HR benefits vaping by better acknowledging that regulated vaping is a very real alternative to such harmful illicit options, as many people currently just view vaping as an alternative to something that’s already legal (tobacco).

Where Do We Go From Here?

I’ll be the first to tell you — I don’t know, exactly. We certainly need to start talking about it as individuals. So, in other words, that means you can reach out to members of the social media-based communities that you aren’t already on board with (vaping and/or harm reduction and/or chronic pain patient advocacy) and spreading this idea with them.

Although I almost always say that most people’s activity on social media falls short of being “advocacy,” I genuinely do believe that uniting these three communities by personally reaching out to people on social media is an effective way to advocate for these causes — not just harm reduction.

By Daniel Garrett

I'm a self-employed writer, long-term drug user, and resident of rural Tennessee. Find me on Twitter at @DanielGarrettHR or email me at danpgarr@ut.utm.edu.

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