Dr. Jeffrey Kiyoshi Hom, the medical director of the Division of Substance Use Prevention and Harm Reduction at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, leads the city’s response to the devastating drug overdose crisis that has gripped his community. His focus: using harm reduction to save lives – rather than punitive approaches or those that promote abstinence as the only measure of success.
“Harm reduction to me is the recognition, the understanding, and the acceptance that drug use occurs. It respects individual autonomy and dignity, and aims to reduce the harms associated with drug use,” said Dr. Hom. Harm reduction also works to combat the stigma around addiction, which “is absolutely an obstacle in terms of the programs that we’re able to set up or the policies that we’re able to implement.”
Dr. Hom teamed up with Bloomberg Philanthropies and other partners, including the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to implement syringe service and fentanyl test strip programs and naloxone distribution. And while the pandemic created new challenges, that work helped Pennsylvania respond more effectively than the nation as a whole.
“While Philadelphia’s overdose death rate remains stubbornly high, the city saw just a six percent increase in overdose deaths between 2019 and 2020 compared to the thirty-percent increase that occurred in the US. I believe this is due in large part to the measures we have taken as a city, including in prevention, education, treatment, and, critically, harm reduction. These have saved lives.”