A webinar on Citizen Focused Disease Prevention, organised by the Institute for Rational Drug Policies (IRAP) in cooperation with the European Pirates, established that harm reduction policies should be used to help people with a wide range of addictions, including smoking.
“We support the concept of harm reduction. Pirates emphasise the need to focus long-term attention on drug use and addictions,” said Mikuláš Peksa, Czech Green MEP. “We are working on a long-term prevention programme of minimising risks at the national level and at the European level. We must also consider how to minimise the negative impact of government drug policies and laws, and this point of view should also be followed by the European Commission.”
The European Commission currently fails to recognise the potential of harm reduction policies even though there is clear public support for them as shown by the recent Town Hall organised by the Commission on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Despite harm reduction being perceived by the Town Hall audience as being extremely important, the Commission still refuses to take harm reduction seriously.
According to Jindrich Voboril, Head of IRAP and former long-term National Anti-Drug Coordinator in the Czech Republic: “We have to consider harm reduction not only as a type of social or health service but as a complex approach that should also be incorporated into law and drug policies.”
Advising how to embrace harm reduction into practice: “One part of it is changing the European Commission’s structure. How can we be effective when illicit drugs are solved with one set of criteria, licit drugs with another and problem gambling is left aside altogether? The current situation does not allow effective solution to drug policies and it is hardly cost-effective. The structure of the Directorate General must be changed and the mandate of the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions) must be strengthened. In the context of the ongoing debate on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, it’s time that the European Commission begins to take the concept of harm reduction seriously,” concluded Voboril.
“Harm reduction is a broad concept that can complement other approaches, for example when tackling addiction,” said Kasia Kowalczyk from The Global Public Health Network alongside her colleague David Mackintosh. “Harm Reduction has untapped potential across different areas of public health. It works best through a collaborative approach and engages the beneficiaries of public health services or other interventions.”
During the discussion, Hana Horka from the European Commission’s DG SANTE was not enthusiastic about harmonising approaches to addiction. Ms. Horka, despite endorsing harm reduction policies for drug addiction, did not endorse harm reduction policies for tobacco or alcohol, instead advocating for tax increases and prohibitive measures on tobacco products.
Abstinence should not be regarded as the only option for addicts. The goal of harm reduction policies is to keep people alive, help them to make positive changes in their lives and offer them alternatives that cause less harm.