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A review of the evidence-base for harm reduction approaches to drug use

31st December 2003

This overview, by Neil Hunt, addresses understandings of harm reduction and summarises its key principles before going on to consider the strength and nature of the evidence of the effectiveness of various forms of ‘harm reduction’ intervention. In doing so, some consideration is also given to criticisms of harm reduction that are occasionally encountered.

Despite the fact that the bulk of its development has occurred in just 20 years or so, there is an extensive and rapidly developing literature on interventions that can be situated within a harm reduction perspective. This evidence base reveals that there are interventions that: (1) definitely work; (2) show promise and require cautious expansion; and (3) are widely used yet under-researched. 

Harm reductionists argue strongly that harm reduction is an empirically-based approach. The author argues that the best response to this is to better develop the evidence, in order to discard approaches that do not work and develop and disseminate those that do.