Pubdate: Mon, 05 Aug 2013
Source: Star, The (South Africa)
Copyright: Independent Newspapers 2013
Author: Vuyo Mkize


NEEDLE exchange for drug addicts. Shooting galleries. Drug 
substitution therapy.

These are just some of the practices associated with the 
internationally controversial "harm reduction" philosophy, which has 
NGOs working with drug addicts angered over the possible damage 
implementing such a strategy could have on increasing drug dependency 
in the country.

The National Drug Master Plan 2013-2017 was approved by the cabinet 
on June 26 this year, to be implemented with immediate effect by the 
Central Drug Authority (CDA).

And harm reduction  as well as supply-and-demand reduction  is one of 
the strategies that will be applied.

The CDA was established as an advisory body in terms of the 
Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse Act (Act No 70 of 2008).

The plan expressly states that the term "harm reduction" should be 
replaced in the country by the term "harm prevention" or a similar term.

But this has not been debated publicly yet.

The plan states: "The debate is based on the view that harm-reduction 
practices appear to condone drug use and that, in medical terms, the 
action taken should be seen to be preventive.

"In light of the UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime) discussion in 
this regard, and the use by the UNODC of the term 'harm reduction', 
the CDA has decided to use this term in the interim.

"The term and its meaning are, however, still under discussion, and 
unravelling the issues concerned will form part of the activities of 
the CDA in the 2013-17 term of office."

However, for Johan Claassen, from Doctors For Life, the government's 
"stubborn promotion" of the controversial strategy is "beyond logic".

He said: "Whatever the version, the harm-reduction philosophy remains 
the same in the (national drug master plan) as when used internationally."

Legalising dagga and the use of methadone as a substitution therapy 
are some of the methods countries around the world adopted as part of 
their harm-reduction strategies.

Claassen argued that in Scotland, the methadone failure rate was 97 percent.

It had cost the country UKP30 million and the number of methadone 
addicts had increased by 400 percent in a decade.

"Some countries, such as Scotland, used methadone to supposedly wean 
addicts off harder drugs, but that's absolute madness. More people 
are dying from methadone than heroin... And with a policy such as 
harm reduction, which basically says 'they are addicts and will use 
(drugs) anyway, rather they do it safely', we as Doctors For Life say 
no, the policy should be that of abstinence," he said.

"Holland has been closing down its so-called coffee shops, where 
recreational dagga use was allowed because, as explained in a letter 
from the Dutch minister of health and justice: "This law will put an 
end to the nuisance of criminality associated with 'coffee shops' and 
drugs trafficking'," he continued.

However, the CDA's Peter Ucko said the implementation of the 
philosophy in the country wouldn't be so cut and dried.

"Reducing harm means reducing use as well... and also reducing harm 
to communities. It is a package... and part of the legislation of the 
(national drug master plan) is that activities should be in 
municipalities, so mayors are responsible for establishing local drug 
action committees, and that falls under the provincial substance abuse forum.

We aim to get closer to the people and deal with the drug scourge at 
a local level."

"The idea behind this is that cannabis users do not need to buy their 
soft drugs from a dealer operating illegally, which would increase 
their chances of coming into contact with hard drugs," it said.

"The Netherlands pursues a policy of toleration. This means that, 
though possessing and selling soft drugs are misdemeanours, 
prosecutions are usually not brought."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom