Harm Reduction- A Socialist Response to a Social Issue

In my role as Local Area Representative for the Labour Party I have responded to queries from local residents about the rise of nitrous oxide use in the area, my response is guided by my experience of working with people in active addiction and my response is always - harm reduction. Harm reduction is not a new concept but because of the neo-liberal approach to drug policy and the state's response to addiction, harm reduction is an approach used by a limited number of individuals who operate within addiction and social inclusion circles. The operating principle behind harm reduction is providing education to those caught up in addiction about safer use, substance replacement therapies and where to access clean works - above all the key aspect of harm reduction is maintaining the person's right to self determination. An example of a successful harm reduction campaign is the rolling out of needle exchange projects in areas where intravenous (IV) drug use was out of control and used syringes were littered in public areas thus increasing health risks to those who came into contact with the abandoned needles. It also encouraged Service Users not to use the same needle twice or use needles found on the street that were used by another - again limiting the risk of blood borne infectious diseases. In my native North Clondalkin unsafe disposals (abandoned syringes) were all too common in the area, my mother went to great lengths to tell us how dangerous they were however, in 1997 the Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol task force was founded and began a needle exchange project. Today in 2020 it is rare to see syringes on the streets of North Clondalkin because of the work of the task force. In the same electoral area the response from one Cllr was to call for legislation to be introduced to control the supply of nitrous oxide - a process that can take months if not years and allows for more damage to be done. Harm Reduction can be immediate and have a long lasting effect that can not only limit the damage caused by substance use but can reduce the number of drug related deaths.

Neo-Liberal policy has seen the funding for the Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol task force and others around the country reduced but their catchment areas have been increased to double their previous capacity and despite an increase of local homelessness no restoration of funding has been made. The catchment area for the Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol task force is about to increase as 8,437 housing units are about to be built with about 2000+ of these units being built for social housing. If local authorities like South Dublin County Council are to truly adopt a Housing First approach to the housing and homelessness crisis then harm reduction services available locally are essential. Yet in the programme for government there is no mention of funding for harm reduction services so essentially FF/FG are recreating the social inequalities that plagued North Clondalkin and led to a cross generational substance use crisis in the area. Nationally the impact of neo-liberal policy has ignored the holistic needs of those caught up in substance use and has followed the pattern of arrest, convict, imprison, release and repeat - a new approach to substance use is need a harm reduction approach is need, a Socialist approach is needed.

-Christopher O’Dwyer - Palmerstown-Fonthill Local Area Representative

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