What Is “Harm Reduction” & Why Are More Countries Around The World Implementing This Strategy To Combat Drug Abuse?

After the success of countries like Portugal and Switzerland, more and more countries around the world are implementing the strategy of “Harm Reduction” in response to drug abuse. For example, Canada made international headlines last week after announcing new legislation which would legalize heroine sales nationwide by the end of next year, becoming the latest country to implement Harm Reduction techniques in response to the heroine crisis/epidemic. On a similar note, Canada has also announced plans to fully legalize marijuana by the end of 2017.

In an official statement about the new legislation, Health Canada addressed how “Canada is currently facing an opioid overdose crisis, and we need to assist our healthcare providers in treating their patients, including those who are suffering from chronic relapsing opioid dependency.” Adding that “Scientific evidence supports the medical use of diacetylmorphine for the treatment of chronic relapsing opioid dependence in certain individual cases. Health Canada recognizes the importance of providing physicians with the power to make evidence-based treatment proposals in these exceptional cases.

According to Daniel Raymond, the Policy Director for Harm Reduction New York, the approach to legalizing heroine should be seen as a professional “extension of medicine-based rehab programs.” Despite the limited access to the drugs as mandated by the new policy, Raymond contends that Canada’s decision to embrace “harm reduction” policies demonstrates how people are finally learning that “asking drug users to quit drugs isn’t always a feasible goal,” nor does throwing drug abusers in jail improve their quality of life.

The implementation of Harm Reduction has already lead to great successes in Europe and Vancouver and much like what has happened in Switzerland, Canada hopes to significantly reduce heroine abuse in their country all the same.

What is harm reduction and how does it curb drug abuse?

Harm reduction is an alternative, sociological based approach towards reducing drug addiction by curbing the number of individuals in society who regularly abuse drugs. It is believed by many people/countries around the world that the current “drug epidemic” has only been made worse by the War on Drugs, not better, and that the time has come to begin looking in a new direction to combat the problem.

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Rather than take a militaristic approach toward the drug epidemic and mass incarcerate citizens as the current War on Drugs mandates, Harm Reduction focuses on care-giving and rehabilitation. Moreover, Harm Reductions advocates to take the same resources and funding we pump into our prison systems and diverts it into hospitals, essentially replacing prison guards with medical assistants and replacing parole boards with job and life coaches.

The underlying premise to the philosophy of Harm Reduction is that when you treat someone with dignity and respect, and invest time/money/effort into improving their lives – rather than simply condemn them to rot in a cage – not only is the individual in question better off, but we as a society will be much better off in the long run just as well.

Typically when someone explains harm reduction they are always met with the same statement/question: “It sure sounds nice, but how do you expect to pay for all of that?” People seem to think it sounds like a good idea in principle, on paper, but it is a common misconception that harm reduction will actually cost tax payers more money than the War on Drugs already does. But this is a fallacy, please allow me to explain why.

According to the Vera Institute of Justice, it costs US taxpayers $31,286 on average to keep one person in prison for a years time. Keep in mind that there are currently over 2 million people in US prisons and according to drugpolicy.org, 70% of these prisoners are in jail for drug related offenses alone. Rather than use this money to condemn someone to a jail, we could be using this money for a more positive purpose – helping to change peoples lives.

What is the cost of this hard-line approach to drug abuse on society?

According to justice.gov, it costs $27.8 billions dollars annually to maintain our justice system. By the way, all of this money is paid for/garuanteed by the taxpayers. Quite simply, when a country legalizes drugs and taxes them they turn crippling expenditure into savings and revenue – literally overnight. Not only does each state save all the money they previously spent hunting down and prosecuting drug users, holding people in jail, but they actually generate income through the taxation of future drug sales.

For example, Colorado recently became the first state in US history to generate more revenue from marijuana taxation than alcohol taxation – this amount was greater than $70 million in 2015 alone. This is not to mention the tens of millions of dollars the state saved in police/prison/legal expenses it used to spend persecuting the same drug/drug abusers. Did I also mention crime rates dropped? Colorado is one example how legalizing something as small as a plant and reducing overall drug prosecutions can lead to a safer society while adding hundreds of millions of dollars to individual states budgets each year.

As other countries are now showing the United States, the leader of the worldwide War on Drugs, more austerity in our approach to law enforcement and social issues is not always the correct answer. As it should be easy for anyone to see, War of any kind is inherently negative. As someone who lives in one of the northern most states in the United States, sharing a border with Canada, I will be watching this situation closely. On one side of the border we will see Harm Reduction and legalization and on the other we will see War and mass incarceration on the same drugs. It will be curious to see which country’s strategy turns out most effective for their people in the long run.

Categories: World Events

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