Module 5: young people, society and AOD: learner's workbook

6.1 What is harm minimisation?

Page last updated: 2004

Harm minimisation aims to address alcohol and other drug issues by reducing the harmful effects of alcohol and other drugs on individuals and society. Harm minimisation considers the health, social and economic consequences of AOD use on both the individual and the community as a whole. It has been a key policy of Australian state and federal governments since the 1985 launch of the National Campaign against Drug Abuse and the subsequent National Drug Strategy.

Earlier in this module you looked at values and attitudes to AOD use and patterns of AOD use both by young people and society in general. As with all work on AOD issues, certain values and beliefs underpin the harm minimisation approach.

The harm minimisation approach
Summary

The harm minimisation approach

The harm minimisation approach is based on the following:
  • Drug use, both licit and illicit, is an inevitable part of society
  • Drug use occurs across a continuum, ranging from occasional use to dependent use
  • A range of harms are associated to different types and patterns of AOD use
  • A range of approaches can be used to respond to these harms.
You have already explored a range of models that are used to help understand drug use. Harm minimisation is based on the public health model. According to this approach, AOD use is viewed as the result of the interaction between the following three components: the individual; the social, economic, cultural and physical environment; and the drug itself. Strategies to reduce harm related to AOD use are therefore focused on these three interacting components (see Diagram).

We can also link the harm minimisation approach to the youth-focused systems approach discussed in Topic 5. The systems approach expands on the public health model by providing a greater emphasis and depth to the environmental factors involved. It increases our awareness of the broader societal and cultural factors, the interactions between different parts of the system and the impact these have on young people and their behaviours. It helps us to see that interventions to reduce harm can be directed at different parts of the system.

Goals and strategies for harm minimisation are wide ranging. The approach is broad enough so that the goals of safer drug use, controlled use and abstinence can all be accommodated.Top of page

Diagram: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug use

Text equivalent below for Diagram: Adapted from Zinberg's interaction model of drug use

Text version of Diagram

The three components that lead to the drug use experience are:
  • the individual;
  • the environment; and
  • the drug.Top of page

Task - writing exercise

Question - Does your agency have a policy on harm minimisation? If so, briefly outline the policy. Reflect on any harm minimisation strategies that you currently use in your work with young people. Do you think these strategies work well for the young people that you work with? Consider the reasons for your response.

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Brainstorm/group activity

Question - Suppose that a new illicit drug called Mafu has become a problem in your community. It is a type of amphetamine with a range of negative side effects and has been the cause of sudden death in number of new users. You have been appointed to lead the taskforce in tackling the Mafu issue. What factors would you consider in attempting to reduce the harm associated with using Mafu?

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Question - In terms of the workplace, what additional harm minimisation strategies could be used with the young people that you work with?

Question - What factors in your workplace could assist you in applying some of these new harm minimisation strategies? How could you make use of these to help you to implement harm minimisation strategies?

Question - What factors in your workplace may be obstacles to you applying harm minimisation strategies with the young people that you work with? How can you try and overcome some of those obstacles?

Summary

  • Harm minimisation aims to address alcohol and other drug issues by reducing their harmful effects on individuals and society

  • Harm minimisation is based on the public health model, in which AOD use is seen as an interaction between the drug, the individual and the environment

  • Harm minimisation can be categorised into three areas:

    • harm reduction
    • supply reduction
    • demand reduction.