The term “harm reduction” refers to policies, programmes and projects which aim to reduce the health, social and economic harms associated with the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs without necessarily reducing drug consumption. It is an evidence-based and cost-effective approach – bringing benefits to drug users, their families and the community. Harm reduction is a targeted approach that focuses on specific harms. It requires that politicians, policymakers, communities, researchers and frontline workers ask two questions: What specifically are the harms associated with different psychoactive drugs? And what can be done to reduce the risk of those harms occurring?
People have always used drugs, engaged in drug use and will always use drugs as such there will never be a drug-free society. But harm reduction accepts that some people who use drugs are often unable or unwilling to stop, and seeks to provide care, support and resources in a non-judgmental environment. The most humane, compassionate and effective approach is therefore to attempt to alleviate the worst of the harms associated with drug use.
Harm reduction promotes safer use and options that help to minimise the risks from drug use and of causing harm to themselves or others, without requiring the cessation of use. It is a pragmatic approach that is based in “public health” and “human rights”. There is a large and ever growing body of evidence that demonstrates harm reduction as an effective approach for preventing drug related harms including HIV, STI/STDs, TB, Hepatitis B and C, and overdose. In addition to individual benefits, harm reduction interventions also benefit the community, for example by reducing crime.