Setting Goals for Drug Policy

Harm Reduction or Use Reduction?

by Jonathan P. Caulkins, Peter Reuter

Historically, United States drug policy has focused on use reduction; harm reduction is a prominent alternative. This paper aims to provoke and inform more debate about the relative merits of these two. Since harm is not necessarily proportional to use, use reduction and harm reduction differ. Both terms are somewhat ambiguous; precisely defining them clarifies thinking and policy implications. Measures associated with use reduction goals are poor; those associated with harm reduction are even worse. National goals influence the many decentralized individuals who collectively make drug policy; clearly enunciating goals makes some policy choices transparent and goals serve a variety of purposes besides guiding programmatic decisions. The authors recommend that the overall objective be to minimize the total harm associated with drug production, distribution, consumption and control. Reducing use should be seen as a principal means of attaining that end.

Originally published in: Addiction, v. 92, no. 9, 1997, pp. 1145-1150.

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