Vol. 18, ed. 9

May 2022

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It’s been a big few weeks in federal politics – not only at home in Australia, where our government has committed Budget funding to harm reduction measures, but also at the highest level of decision-making in the United States.

On April 21, the US administration of President Joe Biden submitted to Congress its first National Drug Control Strategy, focusing on two main pillars: addressing untreated addiction and addressing drug trafficking.

In unveiling its roadmap on drug policy, the White House team drew attention to the 106,854 people who lose their lives to overdose in the US in the 12 months to November last year.

The Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr Rahul Gupta, told reporters the government would prioritise harm reduction, access to substance use disorder treatment and disruption of drug trafficking organisations, in combination with ramping up data collection related to drug policy.

Dr Gupta said: “President Biden’s inaugural National Drug Control Strategy… recognises that this is not a ‘red state’ issue or a ‘blue state’ issue – this is an American issue.”

It is the first time harm reduction has been included as a key pillar.

This shift in thinking by policy makers is massive. In recent times, just mentioning the term “harm reduction” was enough to cause an organisation or project to be refused access to government, let alone funding.

Harm reduction has been a false-flag operation for drug war zealots for decades. It has frequently been mischaracterised as glorifying drug use and corrupting children.

The spread of illicit drug use problems around the globe has happened under the law enforcement- or interdiction-centred approach and harm reduction has most often been excluded or provided only token support. Even so, it has still been pilloried and blamed for drug use problems.

The curious collection of countries objecting to harm reduction at the United Nations often included Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and the US. The US is now slowly but perceptibly decoupling from the most tyrannical tendencies of the drug war.

It’s too late for the many who have lost decades incarcerated for drug crimes and for the millions of lives lost, but it does give hope that, as the optimist’s old cliché purports, the arc of history is long but it bends toward justice.


John Ryan
CEO, Penington Institute