What is Harm Reduction?

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 12-6-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 12-6-10. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/3175

Harm Reduction is a term often mentioned in conjunction with drug policy. A recent report from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies entitled, “Out of Harm’s Way: injecting drug user and harm reduction,” defined Harm Reduction as:

“… a range of pragmatic and evidence-based public health policies and practices aimed at reducing the negative consequences associated with drug use and other related risk factors such as HIV and AIDS. These interventions exemplify human rights in action by seeking to alleviate hazards faced by the injecting drug users, where needed, without distinction and without judgement.”

The Red Cross concluded that,

“Harm reduction is pragmatic, cost-effective and evidence-based. From a public health perspective, it safeguards the well-being of drug users by allowing them to minimize harm to themselves and others”

It went on to say that,

“Changing policies and reforming the justice system are central to harm reduction. Injecting drug use should not be seen as a criminal act but as a major public health issue.”

Another recent report from the International Harm Reduction Association called, “Three cents a day is not enough: Resourcing HIV-related Harm Reduction on a global basis,” supports Red Cross, stating,

“Prevention of HIV is also cheaper than treatment of HIV/AIDS. For example, in Asia it is estimated that the comprehensive package of HIV-related harm reduction interventions costs $39 per disability-adjusted life-year saved, whereas antiretroviral treatment costs approximately $2,000 per life-year saved. Such figures demonstrate that harm reduction is a low-cost, high-impact intervention.”

The IHRA’s conclusion in this report was a simple one,

“More money is needed for harm reduction, and it is needed now.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the HIV/AIDS chapter of Drug War Facts at www.drugwarfacts.org.

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to mjborden@drugwarfacts.org