Harm Reduction

Harm Minimisation is a policy Australia adopted in 1985 aimed at reducing drug-related harm to both the individual and the community.  It focuses on the harms of drug use, both licit and illicit, without condoning or encouraging drug use.  Under ‘Harm Minimisation’ come the following strategies:

Supply Control:  reducing or controlling the amount of a drug available, primarily through legislation and regulation.  Examples of this would be liquor licensing laws, banning the sale of nicotine products to people under 18; prohibition of importing and trafficking of heroin.  The major means of enforcing this strategy are through police and customs initiatives such as drug raids and sniffer dogs.

Demand Reduction:  encouraging abstinence, encouraging the delay of uptake of drug use, decreasing or ceasing use.  This strategy focuses mainly on information and education providing (eg. drug education programmes in schools), regulation (raising alcohol prices through increased taxation) and treatment programmes such as detoxification and rehabilitation programmes or pharmacotherapy provision such as methadone or suboxone.

Harm Reduction:  helping people to use drugs in ways that are less harmful.  Strategies for harm reduction include providing sterile injecting equipment to injecting drug users, providing education on using drugs less harmfully (such as vein care education), limited alcohol at sporting events to low alcohol beer. 

In relation to any drug use, harm reduction is pragmatic and can be described as hierarchical, starting at where the person is ‘at’ and helping them to move to a less harmful level of use, without necessarily expecting the person to stop their use.  A harm reduction hierarchy for injecting drug use could be viewed as a pyramid (see below) with the ultimate goal of safety being abstinence.

In a major 1997 review harm minimisation was recognised as fundamental to the success of Australia’s National Drug Strategy. One indicator alone is needed to demonstrate this success and that is the low rate of HIV among injecting drug users in Australia (<5%) compared to the United States (14%).   Our widespread use of needle syringe exchange programmes, needle syringe programmes, methadone and suboxone treatment programs and provision of education to injecting drug users all contribute to this success.  For more information on NSEP and NSP, refer to our Safer Injecting page.


http://www.ahrn.net/library_upload/uploadfile/file2495.pdf - accessed 30 July 2010

http://www.med.unsw.edu.au/ndarcweb.nsf/resources/TR+263-267/$file/TR.263.pdf - accessed 30 July 2010

http://www.adf.org.au/ - accessed on 30 July 2010



Page last updated: Monday 20 September, 2010