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In her New York Times bestseller Unbroken Brain, journalist Maia Szalavitz took an unflinching look at addiction, challenging the idea of the “broken brain” to offer a groundbreaking perspective on addiction as a learning disorder. Now she turns her keen eye and narrative powers to the surprisingly simple–and extremely divisive–practice of harm reduction, which is a revolutionary means to solving the drug addiction crisis.

Drug overdoses now kill more Americans annually than guns, cars or breast cancer. But in the name of “sending the right message,” we have criminalized drug addiction, denied those who are addicted medical care, housing and other benefits, and have deliberately allowed the spread of fatal diseases. Yet there is an alternative to our present system, one that has been proven to work, but which runs counter to the received wisdom of our criminal and medical industrial complexes. It is called harm reduction.

A surprisingly simple idea with enormous power, harm reduction takes the focus off of drug use and instead works to minimize associated damage. It represents the philosophy behind needle exchange programs and providing heroin addicts with the overdose medication naloxone instead of arresting them. It is focused not on punishing pleasure but on minimizing harm; in essence, it is a wholesale refutation of the American way of justice.

Undoing Drugs tells the story of harm reduction. It will show how this concept has begun to transform the treatment of addiction and how it holds the potential to revolutionize how we deal with a range of other urgent behavioral and societal issues. Harm reduction challenges people to prioritize radical empathy and kindness over punishment as a way of not only dealing with drug use, but also in questions related to racism, sexism, disability and inequality. And, as Szalavitz shows, it says unequivocally that we must be more concerned about saving lives and health than about criminalizing quality-of-life crimes.

Szalavitz argues for a practical application of the Hippocratic oath to “First, do no harm” beyond medicine and to those who urgently need it most.