Southeast Asia, where almost all countries now have some form of harm reduction, is experiencing serious obstacles in their efforts to curb illicit drug use and HIV/AIDS through alternative treatments.

Several harm reduction programs lack government funding, are ill-equipped to meet demand, or fail to comply with UN standards. At the same time, national drug policies encourage law enforcement to criminalize drug users.

While most countries allow key harm reduction strategies, such as needle and syringe exchange programs (NSPs) and opioid substitution therapy (OST), a harsh “war on drugs” method often prevails as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-member economic bloc, struggles with the “unrealistic hope” of a drug-free region by 2015, said Joe Amon, director of the health and human rights division at HRW. 

A heroin drug user holds a syringe in his mouth at a park in Medan city, Sumatra (3/11/11). (AFP Photo/Sutanta Aditya)

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