Feature story

Call for a broader vision for harm reduction

09 November 2018

In 2016, more than 11 million people in the Unites States of America abused prescription opioids and nearly 1 million used heroin, according to the United States Government. Although millions of people in the country are addicted to opioids, only 1 in 10 get treatment.

In 2017, at least 64 000 people died from drug overdose in the Unites States. The misuse of, and addiction to, opioids—including prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl—is a serious national crisis that affects public health as well as social and economic welfare, with devastating consequences.

It is against this backdrop that the Harm Reduction Coalition—a national advocacy and capacity-building organization in the United States that works to promote the health and dignity of people and communities affected by drug use—convened its 12th National Harm Reduction Conference in New Orleans from 18 to 21 October.

At the conference, the Harm Reduction Coalition called for the creation of spaces for dialogue and action to heal the harms caused by racialized drug policies. It also announced that it will move beyond traditional core activities in training, capacity-building and policy.

The participants heard a call for a broader vision of harm reduction that extends beyond prevention and risk reduction to strategies to address trauma, social division, injustice and inequities.

“We cannot end AIDS if we do not end it among people who inject drugs. UNAIDS is committed to harm reduction. Harm reduction works. Harm reduction saves lives,” said Ninan Varughese, Senior Adviser, UNAIDS.

In the lead-up to the ministerial segment of the sixty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, to be held in March 2019, the United Nations is discussing the issue of the world drug problem at the highest level. The United Nations Secretary-General will discuss the issue at his biannual meetings with the heads of United Nations entities and hopes to adopt a common position that will underscore the strong commitment of the United Nations to strengthen the implementation of the outcome document of the 2016 United Nations Special Session on the World Drug Problem through interagency collaboration.