Drug Policy: Human Rights & Harm Reduction

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Harm Reduction: More than just clean needles

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Harm reduction is a realistic, pragmatic and non-judgmental approach based upon openness, understanding and respect. It was initially adopted as an ‘alternative’ approach to try to engage people using banned drugs in the 1980s, partly because the dominant abstinence approach was failing, but largely because agencies were worried about the spread of HIV/AIDS to the wider community. To encourage safer sex and safer drug use governments reluctantly adopted harm reduction drug policies as a means to reach and engage the cooperation injecting drug users.

The global threat posed by AIDS in the 1990s has now subsided, by no coincidence so has the government commitment to harm reduction. However, harm reduction has proven to be effective in engaging people with drug problems into treatment, reducing the spread of infectious diseases, reducing fatal overdose, and reducing addiction. But in some countries harm reduction has stalled and failed to move much further than needle exchange schemes.

Having proved so effective harm reduction has evolved, and now harm reduction is no longer confined to reducing harms from disease, but more significantly it’s more broadly about reducing the harm caused by prohibitionist drug policies.

Has your country moved on from a 1980s model of harm reduction which was largely confined to running needle exchanges? To check out just how far your country has progressed and evolved with it’s harm reduction philosophy here are thirty-one harm reduction policies:

    1. Naloxone take home kits for users and friends
    2. Naloxone available without prescription at pharmacies
    3. Naloxone in public areas alongside AEDs
    4. Good Samaritan laws
    5. Legalisation of all injecting equipment
    6. Drug Consumption Rooms/Injecting Facilities
    7. Drug Consumption Rooms for those who don’t inject
    8. Drug checking at Drug Consumption Rooms
    9. Prescribing the drug the person is addicted to
    10. Oral, inhale-able and injectable prescribing
    11. Injectable heroin prescribing
    12. Injectable methadone prescribing
    13. Client led maintenance prescribing
    14. Free Needle/syringe distribution* in cities
    15. Free Needle/syringe distribution* outreach mobile units
    16. Drug checking at Needle/syringe distribution centres
    17. Condom distribution at all drug agencies
    18. Sharps boxes in public toilets
    19. Sharps boxes in all public agencies
    20. Decriminalise all drug possession for personal use
    21. Decriminalise all cultivation/production for personal use
    22. Drug checking at public events/festivals
    23. Social media early warning system for rogue drugs
    24. Substitute prescribing in prisons
    25. Needle/syringe exchange in prisons
    26. Wet houses for people with drink problems
    27. Rehabs that support oral & ampoule maintenance prescribing
    28. Injecting technique advice at DCRs
    29. Injecting technique advice at Needle Exchanges
    30. Basic health care (showers, laundry room & nurse) at DCRs
    31. Showing people better injecting technique and alternative injecting sites
    32. Providing foil, bongs and pipes.

*Facilitating collection – not exchange only

Julian Buchanan

April 2018


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