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‘Filling the Moral Vacuum’
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The Myth of “Harm Reduction”
By Noel Nile and Kenneth Eckersley

What started as a sensible concept has become senseless rhetoric. Where does it start and end?

Harm Reduction Failure: Methadone itself was meant to reduce the harm of heroin, but it creates only further and stronger drug addiction. “Harm reduction” has failed, miserably — drugs consume more youth at younger and younger ages, claiming more lives and underscore more crime each year.
The addictive nature of opium has caused problems down the ages. More familiar today in its main pharmaceutically derived form — heroin — it is essentially an abused pain-killer with disturbing and damaging side effects.

Wars have been fought over the opiates, organized crime has made heroin its business and the promising careers of many performing artists have been blighted by addiction. Like any malignant problem the solution is to eradicate it before it consumes all, although the ultimate solution is to never have it start in the first place. And either route means that effective preventative education is essential to the future of our youth.

With one of the highest per capita uses of heroin in the Western world, this is particularly germane to Britain. But one major factor which gets in the way of truly effective prevention education is the increasing promotion of so-called “harm reduction” concepts.

When one is dealing with a community of fully committed heroin addicts, it is very relevant to ensure that their usage habits do not create or pass health hazards to others, and every effort should also be made to prevent their own deaths.

But because a strong lobby has discouraged U.K. governments from the option of curing heroin addiction, two alternatives have emerged as the predominant means by which heroin addiction is addressed: switching addicts from injecting to inhalation (smoking the drug), or making free supplies of clean needles available. Both are a means of reducing the transfer of AIDS or HIV to other users.

“What’s wrong is that harm reduction is undertaken at the expense of prevention, education and effective rehab.”

— Ian Phillips, spokesman for “Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Life” campaign

Providing methadone as a substitute for heroin has also been sold to successive governments as a harm reduction measure, intended to reduce crime by making it unnecessary for a heroin addict to steal for his illegal drug supplies. But the sad truth, as studies already find, is that out of those on prescribed methadone, 80% also use street drugs on a weekly basis (mainly heroin), and 44% of those on prescribed methadone use heroin on a daily basis. Because of the poor financial status of those on prescribed methadone, and because of the unaffordable prices they must daily pay for heroin and other illicit supplies, they have no real choice but to continue to fund their habits through crime. It is therefore not surprising that official and other research sources report that between 30 and 50 percent of prescription methadone users still commit crimes. *1

“Harm reduction” is also the general banner under which the Home Office issued its new “Safer Clubbing” guide in March 2002, in which they adopt a stance of ignoring personal use of Ecstasy and other so-called dance drugs by youth in nightclubs. As reported in the London Times on March 8, in the new guidelines “the Government accepts that drug-taking is a part of youth culture that cannot be eradicated....” The emphasis, instead, is to reduce the harm from the drugs.

“There’s nothing wrong in reducing harm. One death from Ecstasy or any other drug is too many,” said Ian Phillips, a spokesman for the “Say No to Drugs, Say Yes to Life” campaign sponsored by the Church of Scientology. “What’s wrong is that harm reduction is undertaken at the expense of prevention, education and effective rehab.”

By way of example, Phillips points out that no Home Office policy or guidelines are issued in the face of escalating club-drug consumption, that a concerted effort be made of drug education toward the goal of prevention in the U.K.’s schools.

Yet deaths from Ecstasy in England and Wales have topped 60 since 1999, while the number of people treated for ill effects in that same period was estimated to run into five figures.

While harm reduction may well have started as a sensible concept to reduce crime and save lives, it has become something else today, as seen in the introduction of “harm reduction” methods for methadone users.

Methadone itself was supposed to reduce the harm of heroin, but it creates only further and stronger drug addiction. Various drugs, including HIV Anti-Retroviral ones, are being taken by methadone addicts to ‘adjust’ the strength of their methadone dosage. But some users, with no HIV problems, have latched on to the anti-viral drugs as a means of getting more kick from their methadone prescription. Now one finds psychiatric clinics promoting another drug, naltrexone, for “heroin and methadone addiction”. But isn’t methadone prescribed for heroin addiction?

So where does harm reduction really start and end?

If an approach is failing, such failure should be acknowledged. There has certainly been no reticence in stoning the “zero tolerance” approach to drugs or the “war on drugs.” Yet “harm reduction” has also failed, miserably —drugs consume more youth at younger and younger ages, claim more lives and underscore more crime each year.

The only sensible answer to drugs lies in making every effort to rehabilitate addicts completely off drugs coupled with a massive undertaking — one that is sustained — of factual drug education at every level of our youth. Such an approach takes a commitment of policy, patience and above all, the necessary resources — including calling upon all concerned social organizations and charities to help. It has to be maintained year in, year out, until the drug epidemic is literally educated out of existence, and drug-free adults can stay the course from there. All while also taking sensible measures to reduce the health and crime hazards of addiction — an adjunct programme that should run its course in a decade or two.

This approach, of course, would not bring any profits to pharmacological interests. Yet, as one drug expert observed, if those same interests were to instead direct their considerable resources to producing nutritional and health products needed for rehabilitation, and produce and market nutritional products for kids, they could still profit nicely — as would untold millions in the U.K. and throughout the world.

*1 August 1999, Drugs Research Report commissioned by The Big Issue in the North Trust entitled “Drugs at the Sharp End”.

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