Harm Reduction Hurts

Sandra S. Bennett
Northwest Center for Health & Safety
Portland, Ore.

Regarding the viewpoint article by Robert Sharpe, “U.S. Drug Policy: Maximizing Harm Reduction” [September]: Just as in the U.S., individuals in the Netherlands and other countries who favor personal use of psychoactive and addictive substances have found positions within the framework of government agencies and used those positions to advance pro-legalization agendas. The term “harm reduction” was coined to give this agenda respectability and gain public sympathy. Unfortunately, the harm reduction does not include reducing the impact of drugs on society, but rather making it safer, more affordable and easier for drug users to do drugs.

According to Drug Policy Report (December 1994) Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Lindesmith Center (now the Drug Policy Alliance), a leader in the promotion of a drug policy based on harm reduction, explained the importance of harm reduction as an intermediate step toward legalization. “I am a big fan of harm reduction,” he said. “It is about making prohibition work better, but on our terms.”

The “reality based” drug information Nadelmann promotes includes handing out “Safe Crack Kits” to kids – primary targets of drug dealers – and teaching them to use illicit drugs safely. They should be teaching kids to obey the law. You do not find Nadelmann and his cohorts out teaching kids how to disobey traffic laws safely, or how to smoke cigarettes safely. Perhaps that is next on their agenda.

Efforts to reduce drug use would be far more effective if pro-legalization organizations and individuals were not working feverishly to undermine every prevention and law enforcement effort [directed] at demand reduction. The only visible sign of drug prevention in the U.S., the DARE program, has been unmercifully attacked by proponents of legalization.

The real debate on drug policy is not law enforcement vs. those who insist they have a right to get high, regardless of the consequences. It is a debate between individuals who have had their lives decimated by drugs or have lost children or other loved ones to drugs, and those who dismiss that pain and grief as irrelevant, scoff at anti-drug laws, and insist on teaching our children how to do drugs. Where do you stand?


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