Module 5: young people, society and AOD: facilitator's guide

6.1 Harm minimisation – what is it?

Page last updated: 2004

Harm minimisation aims to address alcohol and other drug issues by reducing the harmful effects of alcohol and other drugs on individuals and society. Harm minimisation considers the health, social and economic consequences of AOD use on both the individual and the community as a whole. It has been a key policy of Australian state and federal governments since the 1985 launch of the National Campaign against Drug Abuse and subsequent National Drug Strategy.

Harm minimisation approach

Harm minimisation approach

The harm minimisation approach is based on the following:
  • Drug use, both licit and illicit, is an inevitable part of society
  • Drug use occurs across a continuum, ranging from occasional use to dependent use
  • A range of harms are associated to different types and patterns of AOD use
  • A range of approaches can be used to respond to these harms.

Public health model

Harm minimisation is based on the public health model. According to this approach, AOD use is viewed as the result of the interaction between the following three components: the individual; the social, economic, cultural and physical environment; and the drug itself.

We can also link the harm minimisation approach to the youth-focused systems approach discussed in Topic 5. The systems approach expands on the public health model by providing a greater emphasis and depth to the environmental factors involved.

Goals and strategies for harm minimisation are wide ranging. The approach is broad enough so that the goals of safer drug use, controlled use and abstinence can all be accommodated.

Diagram: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug use

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug useTop of page
Text version of Diagram
The three components that lead to the drug use experience are:
  • the individual;
  • the environment; and
  • the drug.


Question - Does your agency have a policy on harm minimisation? If so, briefly outline the policy. Reflect on any harm minimisation strategies that you currently use in your work with young people. Do you think these strategies work well for the young people that you work with? Consider the reasons for your response.

Answer - Harm minimisation strategies can be categorised into three areas:
  • Harm reduction - strategies that aim to reduce the harm from drugs for both individuals and communities. These strategies do not necessarily aim to stop drug use. Examples include needle syringe services, methadone maintenance, brief interventions and peer education.
  • Supply reduction - strategies aimed at reducing the production and supply of illicit drugs Examples include legislation and law enforcement.
  • Demand reduction - strategies aimed at preventing the uptake of harmful drug use. Examples include community development projects and media campaigns.

Brainstorm/group activity

Question - Suppose that a new illicit drug called Mafu has become a problem in your community. It is a type of amphetamine with a range of negative side effects NS has been the cause of sudden death in number of new users. You have been appointed to lead the taskforce in tackling the Mafu issue. How would you reduce the harm associated with using Mafu?

Answer - Factors which could be considered include:
  • the different patterns of use discussed in Schaeffer's model i.e. experimental, recreational, social, regular and dependent)
  • who is your target group and what you want to achieve
  • the types of strategies you could use – harm reduction, demand reduction, supply reduction
  • the different parts of the system that you could target.
Question - In terms of the workplace, what additional harm minimisation strategies could be used with the young people that you work with?

Question - What factors in your workplace could assist you in applying some of these new harm minimisation strategies? How can you make use of these to help you to implement harm minimisation strategies?

Question - What factors in your workplace may be obstacles to you applying harm minimisation strategies with the young people that you work with? How can you try and overcome some of those obstacles?Top of page


Overhead transparency

  • Harm minimisation aims to address alcohol and other drug issues by reducing their harmful effects on individuals and society

  • Harm minimisation is based on the public health model, in which AOD use is seen as an interaction between the drug, the individual and the environment

  • Harm minimisation can be categorised into three areas:

    • harm reduction
    • supply reduction
    • demand reduction.