What is harm reduction/ minimization? What are some examples of drug policies or programs that are consistent with this philosophy?

Harm reduction/minimization strategies treat drug use as a medical problem rather than a law enforcement issue. The aim is to minimize the impact of drug use on health as much as possible. Two examples of programs that employ this approach are Vancouver's Insite Centre and the Harm Reduction Coalition in Oakland.

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As the name suggests, the point of harm reduction and minimization policies is to reduce the harm of drug abuse rather than forcing users to stop completely. This involves treating drug abuse primarily as a medical problem rather than a legal one. Drug users, according to this philosophy, are patients to be helped rather than criminals to be punished.

Harm reduction strategies will vary according to the drug in question, but in many cases, the ancillary effects of drug use will offer some of the most fruitful areas for minimizing harm. For instance, a heroin user will not only be protected from heroin overdoses but from the danger of HIV and other infections. The very fact that the drugs in question are illegal will previously have forced users to seek them out in unsafe environments, a danger that can be eliminated under a policy of harm reduction.

An example of a successful program that is consistent with this philosophy is Insite, which, in 2003, provided Canada's first supervised drug injection center. Insite began in Vancouver, a city which had experienced a high incidence of drug users sharing needles, causing outbreaks of HIV and Hepatitis C. A report by the British Colombia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that from 1996 to 2011 the numbers of overall drug users, users injecting drugs, and users sharing needles all dropped significantly (article attached). In the U.S.A., the Harm Reduction Coalition (website link attached), founded in 1993 in Oakland, runs similar programs throughout California.

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