The Art of Keeping Parties Safe: Perspectives on Harm Reduction

The Art of Keeping Parties Safe: Perspectives on Harm Reduction


(Discussion panel)

Harm Reduction (HR) began as a collection of strategies that people who uses psychotropic substances put into practice in the 1970s in the United States and slightly later in Europe, and focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself.  People using drugs have always had a fundamental role to play in responding to drug-related harms, frequently acting more swiftly than authorities when faced with serious problems. By virtue of its attributes, HR strategies constituted a paradigm shift in how to approach the drug-use phenomenon, re-conceptualising both the problem itself and the attitude towards it.

Nevertheless, the successful implementation of these practices in the control of epidemics such as HIV/AIDS, as well as the fact that drug use has become a more pervasive issue for society, has led to HR programs to be implemented by government agencies and non-governmental organisations. However, this dissemination of HR as a mainstream public health strategy raises questions about its nature and main objectives.  This panel aims at discussing whether  HR may be losing its alternative and activist nature, working to defend users’ rights, namely the right to use drugs, and accepting only the medical message of how to reduce health risks and the implication this might have for intervention and activism.

Helena Valente (Kosmicare) she is vice-president of Kosmicare Association and a researcher/PhD. Candidate at Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the Porto University, where she is developing a project that aims to understand the impact of drug checking integrated services in its clients drug using patterns and behaviours. Helena Valente works with people that use drugs since 2004 and since 2007, has developed, implemented and coordinated several community intervention projects, particularly in the areas of harm reduction and nightlife settings.

João Matias is an epidemiologist, graduated from the London School of

Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). In 2004, he joined the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). He works in the Public Health Unit as a scientific analyst on drug use, responsible for the epidemiological indicator “Prevalence and patterns of drug use”, covering topics like drug use in nightlife settings, drug checking, wastewater analysis and the European Web Survey on Drugs. He has also worked at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as an analyst on drug markets.

Dr. Sidney (Sid) Schnoll is an internationally recognized expert in addiction and pain management who applies his experience of over 30 years in academic medicine to the issues of risk management. Sid counsels clients on regulatory and scientific strategy, and development, implementation and assessment of risk management activities, including engagement with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). He has served on numerous committees and boards including the FDA’s Drug Abuse Advisory Committee (DAAC), NIH study sections, National Board of Medical Examiners test development committees, and the board of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD). In 2001, he developed the RADARS® System to study the abuse and diversion of prescription opioids.

Dr. Robert Heimer is a Yale University faculty member. His major research efforts include scientific investigation of the mortality and morbidity associated with injection drug use. Areas of investigation include syringe exchange programs, virus survival in syringes, hepatitis B vaccination, hepatitis C transmission risks, overdose prevention and resuscitation, and pharmacological treatment of opiate addiction. His research combines laboratory, operational, behavioral, and structural analyses to evaluate the effectiveness of intervention programs in preventing the negative medical consequences of injection drug use. His current work focuses on the contexts and consequences of drug abuse in the U.S. and Russia and attempts to provide health and prevention practitioners with information needed to assist their educational and advocacy efforts.

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