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Drug Policy: Harm Minimisation vs Zero Tolerance

  • Date Submitted: 06/03/2010 03:48 AM
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Discuss the concept of harm reduction and compare it to the notion of zero tolerance (or total abstinence): evaluate both as approaches to either.
1. Public policy approaches to drug use

When dealing with the concept of illicit drug use on its different levels (manufacturing, distribution and consumption), government legislation has always had to make the innate decision between the notion of harm minimization, versus total prohibition when deciding it policy direction.
The foundations of Australia’s drug policy dates back to a rationale of xenophobia and maternal ties to Great Britain and wartime allies. Laws governing the distribution and use of cannabis, and later heroin, were based on the compliance to international convention (Moore & Wodak, 2002). From this questionable establishment, Australia’s stance of prohibition was created against any problematic evidence. This has been the primary policy fuelling the ‘war on drugs’, which is commonly referenced today.
The concept of harm reduction however is far more recent, and has been a more prevalent topic since the birth of the National Campaign against Drug Abuse in 1985 (Wellbourne-Wood, 1999). This was brought about in the effort to limit the spread of blood born viruses via needle exchange programs and safe sex education (McConnel, 2002), which was further legitimized by the threat of HIV/AIDS, which remains a public health success story. Both policies share similarities in their views on supply and demand reduction, but where harm minimisation differs is its focus to a holistic approach to harm reduction (Mendes, 2004). This introduces the ideas that drug use should be viewed as a public health issue, rather than criminal affair, as well as being a morally neutral stance accepting that drugs will remain part of society, and that while they exist the government has a responsibility to develop and implement public-health measures designed to reduce drug-related harm, both to individuals and the wider...

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