Health-oriented drug policy


Minimising the Harm of Drug Use: A Health-Oriented Approach

Drug use posed numerous risks, both to individuals and society. To address these risks effectively, the GPDPD is committed to promoting a health-oriented drug policy worldwide. Germany's implementation of Harm Reduction measures serves as a fundamental model for this approach.

In 2020, 284 million people worldwide engaged in illicit substance use, with 13.6% of them grappling with addiction, which gravely threatens their well-being. Over 11 million individuals resort to injecting drugs, half of whom live with hepatitis C, and one in eight with HIV. The consequences of using contaminated syringes can have lifelong implications. Psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression, coupled with social isolation, further compound the harms caused by drug use. Shockingly, in 2019 alone, drug use claimed the lives of 494,000 people globally.


The Key to Reducing Risks


The adoption of a Harm Reduction approach in drug policy is pivotal in minimising risks and prioritising individual health. Germany has emerged as a pioneer in implementing Harm Reduction measures, which serve as one of the pillars of the German Government's National Strategy on Drug and Addiction. At the international level, the GPDPD working on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), advocates for this health-oriented approach to drug policy.


Understanding Harm Reduction


Harm Reduction encompasses a range of measures aimed at reducing the risks associated with drug use. Practical examples include needle and syringe exchange programs, opioid agonist therapy, easily accessible HIV testing and counselling services, and drug consumption rooms. Equally important is the dissemination of information on safer substance use and safer sex practices for individuals using drugs. By prioritising individuals' needs and rights rather than morally condemning drug use, Harm Reduction measures have proven highly effective in reducing rates of HIV and hepatitis C transmission. These cost-effective services have been endorsed by the World Health Organization since 2004 for their success in curbing HIV infections and preventing high-risk drug use.

millions of people
worldwide injected drugs in 2020 (UNODC 2022)
died as a result of drug consumption in 2019 (UNODC 2022)
survived an overdose thanks to the administration of Naloxone

Progress and Success in Global Harm Reduction Efforts


According to the comprehensive report "The Global State of Harm Reduction 2022," there has been significant progress in global Harm Reduction efforts. For the first time in eight years, the number of countries implementing Harm Reduction services has significantly increased. The report highlights that 92 countries now have at least one Needle and Syringe Program (NSP), up from 86 countries in 2020. Moreover, 87 countries have established at least one Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT) program, compared to 84 countries the previous year. The number of countries with legal and operational Drug Consumption Rooms (DCRs) has also increased, with 16 countries currently offering these facilities, up from 12 in 2020.


A Gateway to Treatment


Harm Reduction services play a crucial role in encouraging individuals with a problematic use pattern to consider treatment. By not solely emphasising abstinence as the goal, these measures are particularly attractive to those who are unable or unwilling to stop using drugs in the short term. Consequently, they provide a low-threshold entry point to assistance and state health services.


Every Individual's Right to Health


The concept of Harm Reduction emerged in the early 1990s as a pragmatic response to infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. Over time, evidence-based approaches have proven successful in countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Portugal. Currently, 104 countries recognise and support Harm Reduction in their national policy documents. However, in many other countries, this vital principle remains unrecognized, resulting in limited assistance for individuals in need. Individuals with drug use disorders often face stigma, criminalisation, and excessively long prison sentences, as purely repressive measures prevail.


Urgent Need for Global Recognition


Particularly in developing and emerging countries, the challenges associated with high-risk drug use are significantly acute. These countries face difficulties in accessing evidence-based addiction assistance for individuals who use drugs. Against this backdrop, the GPDPD advises governments interested in aligning their drug policy more to health-focused approaches, as well as fostering knowledge sharing through international Expert Group Meeting.