Over the last six weeks, you will have seen anonymously penned articles on the use of MDMA, Cocaine, and now the psychadelic phenethylamine 2C-B appear in these pages. These are three of a series which will examine contemporary drug use in Ireland from a harm reduction perspective. But what is harm reduction, and how does it come into play in this country?
Harm reduction is a broad term used in public health which describes an approach to drug use which prioritises minimising the damage, physical and mental, caused to users. Recently, politicians in Ireland have taken note of the idea and have begun to apply it speculatively to the way we deal with drugs and drug users here.
These policies can be hghly contraversial, drawing much commentary and criticism as was the case when supervised injection rooms were proposed for opiate users. Or they can be divisive, as were the implementation of anti-smoking measures. They can also be entirely acceptable, as is the persistant tackling of the nation’s long-running, well-documented binge drinking problem.
Often, such policies when introduced initially can be the subject of heated debate. As was the smoking ban when introduced in 2004, and reduced allowances of blood alcohol levels for drivers as they have been successively lowered over decades.
Schools of thought on how best to handle drug use are many and complex, though they can broadly be categorised into two camps; those who favour prohibition and those who advcate decriminalisation. In Ireland the status quo has been prohibitive, restricting access to various substances in the interest of the public good. This has had the unwanted side-effect of creating a dangerous black market which has in the past, and will in the future, resulted in deaths.
Another element of the harm reduction approach to drug use is education. We in Ireland grow up in the company of alcohol, and are well aware from a young age of its effects. Despite this knowledge, we still often drink too much and do ourselves harm knowing full well that this will be the case. This is because despite alcohol being a normalised part of our lives, little in the way of appropriate education is provided outside confirmation pledges and conversations with our parents.
Even in the case of a legal drug such as alcohol, a knowledge gap exists. It is unwise to expect that anyone act cautiously or safely with a substance which is surrounded by stigma and misinformation.The purpose of this series then, is not to encourage the use of any illegal drugs. Far from it, it is intended to offer those considering using a drug, or more likely those who already do, to consider the risks and be as safe as possible if they choose to take a given substance.
Students take drugs, they always have, and many will continue to do so despite the risks. This is something which is now more dangerous than ever before as the strength of substances available on the street increases, new psychoactive substances appear, and powders and pills continue to be passed off as something they aren’t. Not a new problem, but one which has certainly worsened recently. Deaths have occured due to misinformation, it is hoped that these pieces may go some way in ensuring that this does not happen again.
- Seán O’Reilly, Editor