Harm-reduction responses

Measures to minimise drug-related health damage, reduce deaths and mitigate public nuisance (74) have become an integral part of many national drugs strategies and a clear policy priority in a majority of countries (Table 6 OL). Implementation of harm-reduction activities is described by the national focal points as ‘very important’, ‘of key significance’, ‘fundamental’, ‘a priority’ or ‘a pivotal aspect of our national drug strategy’.

Syringe-exchange programmes, outreach initiatives and low-threshold services have continued to expand and in various countries have diversified to include basic medical care, vaccinations, safer use education, overdose emergency care, first aid courses for drug users or supervised consumption rooms. Table 2 provides an overview of selected harm-reduction initiatives in the EU Member States and Norway. Increased geographical coverage of syringe-exchange programmes is among the most important measures to reduce injection-related infections. Other interventions are generally less widespread and are presented here as ‘indicators’ of the orientation of drugs services responses towards the basic health needs of marginalised drug users. In all countries, drug-treatment initiatives, especially substitution programmes, also make an important contribution to reducing drug-related health damage.

(74) See EMCDDA annual report 2002; EMCDDA Drugs in focus No 4; Council Recommendation on the prevention and reduction of health-related harm associated with drug dependence (Cordrogue 32).