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Harm Reduction

Harm reduction refers to a range of public health policies designed to reduce the harmful consequences associated with high risk activities such as recreational drug use. Harm Reduction is a central part of the philosophy behind CAHMA. Put simply, Harm Reduction is about reducing, or where possible removing, the harms which may occour when someone is performing some activity. In this case, the activity is using illicit drugs.

Examples of harm reduction in other areas are the introduction of seat belt laws -and making seat belts available in all cars (to reduce the harms which drivers were suffering) and the provision of condom vending machines in pub toilets (to reduce unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections). Further examples include Chill out rooms, Designated Drivers and Legalised Brothels to name just a few.

When we look at the use of illicit drugs, harm reduction involves many activities, from the provision of clean needles and syringes through to education campaigns and even just talking to people -finding out what people are doing is necessary before you can tell them the safest way to do it. One of the most impportant aspects of Harm reduction is Peer Education, where drug users are employed to talk and work with people accessing Alcohol and Other Drug Services. CAHMA is a good example of this. CAHMA seeks to ensure that staff have first-hand experience with drug use. As such, they all have a good understanding of the numerous issues which drug users face in their everyday lives. This usually makes it much easier for drug users to talk with us as workers, and it often makes it much easier to communicate and to understand each other.

Within Australia, Harm Reduction was adopted and practiced from the late 1980s and was discussed in political and policy terms within the country's HIV/AIDS strategies. It was not until 1998, however, that the Federal Government recognised Harm Reduction within national drug policy. In November of 1998, the Federal Government launched its national drug policy, (National Drug Strategic Framework 1998/99 to 2002/03, Building Partnerships; A strategy to reduce the harm caused by drugs in our community). In international terms this was a great achievement, however by this time a great deal of work had already been undertaken. The HIV infection rates amongst injecting drug users had been kept at a low level, much to the envy of the rest of the world. When discussing Harm Reduction, one key element that is often underestimated or ignored is the role that people who inject drugs played, and continue to play, in Australia’s Harm Reduction response. In some States and Territories, Governments funded drug users to establish drug user organisations. This is because Governments rightly recognised that the most effective and efficient way in which to reach people who inject drugs was through peer networks. (This can also be further defined by the work of Croft and Friedman who have analysed the development of HIV in the Australian and US contexts respectively. They argue that drug injectors began to spontaneously change prior to professional intervention.)

Aspects of Harm Reduction within the field of illicit drug use include:

∑ Needle and Syringe programs

∑ Pharmacotherapy based treatment options

∑ Education and Outreach programs