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Harm reduction principles have not been applied to social policy programs that affect drug users. This paper considers whether income supports for the drug-dependent poor might be harm reducing, given that a principle harm related to drug dependence is crime committed to finance drug use. The authors examine the political fate of the principal income support program in the United States that targeted the drug dependent. Revelations that the money was being used in part for the purchase of drugs has led to a scaling back and tightening of the program. The authors suggest that the program might have been more effectively defended if attention had been paid to community harms rather than only to drug consumption by recipients. European and Australian governments provide income support which is no doubt also used for drug consumption, but in the context of universalist income support programs they do not require a harm reduction defense. The authors conclude that great potential for reducing drug-related harm may fall well outside the domain of targeted drug policy, whether of the supply reduction, demand reduction, or harm reduction variety.

Originally published in: Drug and Alcohol Review, v. 15, 1996, pp. 225-230.

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