Although the consumption of stimulants is increasing worldwide, there has been little research on how harm reduction measures affect the risks of consuming. The Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD) therefore funded a study in 2018 that evaluates successful examples from five continents and over 1,500 academic papers.
Although the consumption of stimulants is increasing worldwide, there has been little research on how harm reduction measures affect the risks of consuming. The Global Partnership on Drug Policies and Development (GPDPD) therefore funded a study in 2018 that evaluates successful examples from five continents and over 1,500 academic papers. The fact that it was also translated into Portuguese in 2019 and presented in Brazil in December, once again illustrates the positive response among experts worldwide to "Speed Limits" – and now "Limites da Correria".
People using psychoactive drugs regularly risk a range of serious mental, psychological and physical harms. They can develop psychoses and depressions, experience massive weight loss and cardiovascular diseases. Since more and more people are using psychoactive drugs, an increasing number of people is exposed to these health risks. According to the latest World Drug Report, 68 million people used cocaine, methamphetamines and other stimulants in 2017.
Not only people using psychoactive drugs, but also their relatives and the society as a whole are affected. Therefore, measures of harm reduction that curb the complex negative consequences of drug use are needed. The focus is on the well-being of the individual and the promotion of public health.
While harm reduction for people injecting drugs is a well-established field of research, the scientific debate on stimulant use is lagging behind reality. On behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GPDPD contributes to close this gap between the state of knowledge and the urging global challenges. It commissioned the trend-setting study "Speed Limits - Harm Reduction for People who use Stimulants". For the first time, the Dutch foundation MAINline systematizes the existing literature on the subject and compares the implementation of harm reduction measures for people using stimulants in more than 30 countries. Seven case studies from five continents are examined in detail. On 9th and 10th December 2019, one year after its publication in 2018, "Speed Limits" has now been translated into Portuguese "Limites da Correria" and presented to the expert audience by the Free School of Harm Reduction in Recife, Brazil.
The "Speed Limits" study is also crucial since it paves the way for a paradigm shift. The central finding of the study is that drugs are not used in a social vacuum, but under certain legal, social and cultural conditions. Unemployment, (family) violence, homelessness, state repression and many other factors have a decisive influence on whether one can control his or her own consumption pattern and the associated consequences. Solutions must therefore be structural and at the same time address the individual situation of the users. The study is repeatedly quoted in international expert circles. The renowned Harm Reduction Journal, for example, will publish articles on case studies from the study.
After analyzing 1,500 publications, the study divides the field into twelve harm reduction strategies for people who use stimulants. There is a need for low-threshold services – those not linked to preconditions such as drug abstinence – that do not deter people and help them regain autonomy and self-esteem. Drug consumption rooms, drop-in centers and (online) self-help programmes make an important contribution here. Since drug use is often linked to psychological and social problems, appropriate forms of therapy should be considered in order to achieve lasting success. This also requires approaches that are specifically sensitive for women and marginalized groups. Cooperation between the institutions is equally important. People receiving comprehensive access to help are those who benefit most from a network in which various services complement each other.
The examples given in the study demonstrate the many ways in which harm reduction can be achieved. While safe consumption rooms exist in the Netherlands, low-threshold self-help groups have formed in several cities in South Africa. In Toronto, Canada, an initiative is working to ensure that people receive new and clean glass pipes that allow them to use methamphetamine and crack cocaine without risk of injury. Many users are injured especially by homemade utensils. If they share their pipes then with others, there is a risk of viruses being transmitted. The state-funded harm reduction program in northern Brazil, on the other hand, focuses on providing safe housing for people using drugs in order to counter the rising crime rate. There they can stay independently away from the street and find their way back to a regular everyday life.
Given the global figures for the past few years, no decline in drug use can be expected in the near future. It is therefore even more important to use scientific findings in order to reduce the harm for people using psychoactive drugs and their health. Through the study, GPDPD makes an important contribution to this. However, more research as well as political and financial commitment are needed to successfully and extensively implement harm reduction for people using stimulants.
The study is available for free download inEnglish.