The U.S. is shifting away from a focus on criminal penalties and towards addiction treatment, acknowledging that the former approach has failed to prevent the overdose crisis that now kills more than 100,000 Americans annually. Many states have lessened drug penalties and lawmakers now discuss drug addiction as a problem of public health rather than just criminal justice. Harm reduction, a once-radical approach, focuses on reducing the potential dangers of drugs, rather than encouraging users to abstain. The Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives has voted for a bill that decriminalizes test strips to check drugs for fentanyl, while Republican strongholds, including Kentucky, Utah, and Mississippi have recently decriminalized the strips. The country has undergone a “decided shift” in favor of harm reduction. Needle exchange programs can reduce drug use and overdoses over time, acting as hubs that educate people on safe practices and connect them to addiction treatment. While there is notable progress, harm reduction is still far from universal acceptance. Some lawmakers of both parties reject more controversial ideas, like supervised injection sites.
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