Injecting drug use is on the rise throughout the world. Research suggests between 10 and 15 million people in 135 countries inject drugs. Globally, 5 to 10 per cent of HIV infections come from injecting drugs but in some countries the rate is more than 50 per cent. The traditional approach to controlling drug use is to focus on law enforcement to reduce the supply of drugs reaching the community. This is coupled with other strategies to reduce the demand for drugs. Research shows that when the demand for drugs is high, reducing the supply is largely ineffective.

The emergence of HIV/AIDS, and its rapid spread among injecting drug users (IDUs), meant that effective strategies had to be developed and adopted – these effective strategies form the harm reduction approach. Harm reduction can co-exist with supply and demand reduction but its focus is on public health rather than law and order.