International Support for Harm Reduction

An overview of multi-lateral endorsement of harm reduction policy and practice
International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) & Human Rights Watch (HRW)
January 2009

int-support-hrA useful overview of UN endorsement of harm reduction measures; the legality of harm reduction services under the Drug Conventions; the obligation in human rights law to ensure access to harm reduction services and the global state of harm reduction, listing 82 countries and territories worldwide that presently support or tolerate harm reduction.

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There is strong and consistent evidence that harm reduction interventions which include access to sterile injecting equipment, opioid substitution therapies, and community-based outreach, are the most effective and cost effective means of reducing HIV-related risk behaviours and therefore preventing transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood borne viruses among people who inject drugs. Nevertheless, the issue of harm reduction continues to be controversial in the UN drug control system. Some countries oppose to even mentioning the words, despite the fact that in other UN bodies harm reduction is widely endorsed.

The International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) prepared the overview to help UN member states in the current negotiations over a Political Declaration that has to be adopted in March 2009 at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The overview demonstrates beyond doubt that it is those member states resisting harm reduction language that are out of step with the global evidence base, successive reports from the competent multilateral agencies, and the policy positions of other UN bodies (including ECOSOC and the General Assembly, of which the CND is a subsidiary body).