Harm minimisation is a useful approach because it helps you to focus your assessment on the range of factors that are contributing to the harms associated with young people's AOD use (and not just on the AOD use alone). You can then design interventions to prevent or reduce those harms directly not just by trying to reduce or eliminate AOD use.

Harm minimisation is the current drug-related policy in Australia governing all drug-related laws and responses. Harm minimisation considers the health, social and economic consequences of AOD use in relation to the individual and the community. It has been a key policy of Australian state and federal governments since the National Campaign Against Drug Abuse was launched in 1985.

Three key areas
'Harm minimisation in my service'

Three key areas

Harm minimisation strategies can be categorised into three areas:
  • Harm reduction – These strategies are aimed at reducing the harm from drugs for both individuals and communities and do not necessarily aim to stop drug use. Examples include needle syringe services, methadone maintenance, brief interventions, and peer education.

  • Supply reduction – These strategies are aimed at reducing the production and supply of illicit drugs. Examples include legislation and law enforcement

  • Demand reduction – These strategies are aimed at preventing the uptake of harmful drug use. Examples include community development projects and media campaigns.
The harm minimisation approach is based on the following premises:
  • 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 with different types and patterns of AOD use
  • A range of approaches can be used to respond to these harms.
The concept of harm minimisation rests on the assumption that we cannot stop all people from using illicit substances. However, while people continue to use drugs, some will continue to experience harm. Importantly however, harm minimisation is not restricted to reducing individual levels of harm. It takes a systems approach and considers potential harm to the community as a whole as well as the individual.
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Harm minimisation includes those strategies designed to reduce the harm associated with use, without necessarily reducing use. It involves those strategies (policies and programs) specifically targeted at reducing the harm directly resulting from drug use.

Some examples of harm reduction strategies include: labelling on cigarette packets, limits and controls on gambling, needle and syringe exchange programs, safe injecting rooms, peer education programs, methadone maintenance programs, labelling on alcoholic beverages.

The concept of harm minimisation is not well understood or accepted in the wider community as many people believe that in attempting to reduce the harm associated with drugs, we are condoning drug use. The approach recognises that drug use is occurring both legally and illegally and our aim is to try to keep people safe or as safe as possible through harm minimisation strategies. These strategies aim to educate young people so that they are able to make informed decisions and choices.

'Harm minimisation in my service'

Workplace learning activity/writing exercise

Question - What are three ways in which your organisation attempts to reduce the harm associated with AODs?

Question - What ways could your organisation further contribute to harm minimisation among young people who use AODs?

Question - Identify two harm minimisation strategies within your organisation.

Question - How are they implemented?