Harm reduction programs refer to the organizations around the world that create policies, programs, and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of possibly fatal or addictive 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.
Harm Reduction Programs have added a much-welcomed shift in the dynamic against the “war on drugs” whereas before, society continually placed drug use on a taboo, no discussion list, these programs bring the reality of drug use into light. These programs are located all over the world and have begun to make real strides in the betterment of the lives of addicts, sober and non. Since the issue of drug addiction has shown no real signs of stopping, harm reduction programs have begun sprouting up all over the world, and there are a multitude of different organizations, all working towards the same goal.
Harm Reduction International
As one of the leading, non-governmental organizations in the field, HRI is a global program that focuses on the research, policies and legal analysis, and advocacy of health and human rights for injection drug users. With over twenty years in the field, HRI began work after the explosion of HIV cases due to injection drug use, and have not stopped working yet. Their main goal is to reduce the negative health, social, and human rights of those users who suffer from addiction to injection drugs, and to provide public health policies and easier treatment alternatives for people who seek assistance.
Since HRI is a global program, they are often working in areas of the world that enforce the death penalty for drug users. For example, according to HRI research, there are at least 33 countries worldwide that mandate the death penalty for drug users, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan, China, Iran, and Vietnam. In 2015, a reported number of 900 people were on death row for drug use throughout these countries, single and multiple offenders alike. HRI has been making strides in the development of new legal and public practices in countries such as these, to provide better alternatives towards treatment and rehabilitation of drug users.
Harm Reduction Coalition
Founded in 1993, Harm Reduction Coalition was the result of a handful of needle exchange providers, advocates, and drug users who wanted to create a greater understanding of the dangers of drug use and to provide insight and understanding into the taboo subject of drug use. After 20 years running, they are supported by a network of allies who work towards destroying the stigma associated with drug users in the hopes of creating public policies and health reforms that will encourage users to seek safer methods of drug use and rehabilitation. They do this by promoting safe access to clean equipment (syringes) which, in turn, reduces and prevents the rates of HIV, Hepatitis, and overdose. They also focus on drug user dignity through awareness and teaching on drug use to reduce the stigma and increase cultural competency on the subject. They also promote leadership development for users, community mobilization, organizational development, and development and sustainability courses for local communities who are looking to raise awareness and start their own harm reduction programs.
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
On our own soil, efforts are being made by grassroots organizations to help raise awareness and create a society of understanding for drug users. NCHRC engages in grassroots advocacy, resource development, coalition building and direct services for people impacted by drug use, sex work, overdose, immigration status, gender, STIs, HIV, and hepatitis. NCHRC also provides resources and support to the law enforcement, public health, and provider communities. They accomplish this goal by treating every person, regardless of their background and current situation, with dignity and respect, as a trusted advocate for their rights. Throughout the state, they have been proposing advocacy across the board for current and previous drug users to help facilitate a permanent recovery and reintroduction into society. Their intended legislative agenda for 2017 consists of fair chance hiring, expanding naloxone use, funding, and availability, and to remove restrictions on Safe Equipment Programs (or needle exchanges). Their hopes are to provide users who are not ready to quit with safe equipment in the goal of reducing the rates of HIV and Hepatitis.
Overall, the benefits of Harm Reduction Programs across the world have begun to make a huge impact on the lives of countless users and communities. For example, according to avert.org, the introduction of harm reduction programs have reduced the numbers of new HIV infections for injection users to practically zero in countries such as Switzerland, the UK, and Australia. Not only is it helpful for the prevention of diseases, but it is a more cost effective method than simply tossing drug users into prisons. For example, in Australia, every dollar invested in clean syringe programs returned four dollars in health care savings.
Although this is a highly debated topic in the US, the rest of the world is starting to warm up to the idea that drug use will not stop simply because we want it to. Something needs to be done, and harm reduction programs seem to be the only real thing that is working out there.
Whether working towards providing clean needle exchanges or pushing lawmakers around the world to reduce life-long jail sentences for drug users, harm reduction programs are acting with human rights in mind. They push for the understanding and acceptance of drug users while developing and promoting new standards of safe use practices and rehabilitation techniques. In countries all over the world, they have made a huge impact on the rates of deadly viruses and overdose rates, and we can only hope that more countries decide they are tired of their endless death rates, and adopt the ideas of harm reduction programs.
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