Harm Minimisation

Since 1985 harm minimisation has been adopted by Australian Governments as the national framework for addressing the range of issues related to alcohol and other drugs in Australia. The National Drug Strategy 2004 - 2009 adopts a harm minimisation approach to the use of illicit drugs and the misuse of licit drugs. There are three aspects used when addressing alcohol and other drug use through a harm minimisation approach:

  • reducing the supply of drugs
  • reducing the demand for drugs
  • reducing the harm from drugs.

What is harm minimisation?

The National Drug Strategy outlines that the harm minimisation approach does not condone drug use. Harm minimisation acknowledges that some people in societies will use alcohol and other drugs and therefore incorporates policies which aim to prevent or reduce drug related harms. Harm reduction is a central pillar of the harm minimisation approach. As of March 2009 at least 84 countries worldwide supported or allowed a harm reduction approach to drug policy (International Harm Reduction Association, 2008). Harm reduction is also supported by the following key international organisations:

  • United Nations General Assembly
  • UNAIDS - the joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
  • World Health Organization
  • International Narcotics Control Board
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Harm Reduction

The International Harm Reduction Association (2009) defines harm reduction as:

'policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs'.

An example of a harm reduction approach is Needle and Syringe Programs. These programs have been implemented effectively in Australia for over 20 years, and provide sterile injecting equipment to injecting drug users to reduce the sharing of needles and prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other blood borne viruses.

The effectiveness of these programs has been evaluated in Australia. The evaluation found that approximately 32,000 new HIV infections and 97,000 new Hepatitis C infections had been prevented·during the decade 2000-2009 as a direct result of the Needle and Syringe Programs. In addition, the programs resulted in health care cost savings of over four dollars for every one dollar spent.

Click on the link to access a full copy of the report 'Return on Investment 2: Evaluating the cost-effectiveness of needle and syringe programs in Australia 2009' [website].

Other Resources