Integration Celebration: Reducing the Harms of Prohibition

Essay by ShadiElf April 2004

download word file, 2 pages 5.0

Downloaded 15 times

It is our proposal that it is absolutely essential to move beyond the limitations of "harm reduction" and clarify definitions of "peers" if we are going to stand a chance of actually supporting the health and well-being of people who use drugs. The term "harm reduction" itself is negative, and in practise it is often unclear as to whether it is the potential harm of dug use that is being prevented, or the many harms of prohibition.

For many of us who have spent some time working in the harm reduction field, the constant need to respond to crisis after crisis often feel like bandaging soldiers and sending them back to the front lines. For those of us who are both professionals in the field, as well as drug users, self-respect and gut feelings demand something more.

Some of us have spent some time working with peer-based drug user organisations, sometimes as paid professionals and sometimes as unpaid activists.

While it is undoubtably the existence of such groups that has assisted many people who use drugs to find a sense of self-respect and dignity, unfortunately the word "peer" has been rendered about as meaningless as "harm reduction," where even a panel that involves a drug user representative may get called "peer education."

There are also many people who use drugs working in other harm reduction organisations, where most of them are required to keep their substance use secret. While harm reduction theory may be about moving beyond the criminalisation of drug use, in practise the pathologisation of users can hardly claim to be an improvement in many cases. Slogans such as "drug use is a disease, not a crime" coming from the mouths of drug users is a sure indication for the need for...