In recent years, many governments and international agencies have sought to support of the expansion and improvement of treatment services for people dependent on drugs. These initiatives, most notably the joint UNODC/WHO Joint Programme on Drug Dependence Treatment and Care, are very welcome in their commitment to improving the quality and availability of drug dependence treatment services, as well as the promotion of human rights compliant and evidence-based models of treatment and support for those people who use drugs who need it.

However, the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and its members are concerned at the tendency of some commentators to suggest that the wider availability of treatment services for people dependent on drugs can be promoted as an alternative strategy for preventing the transmission of HIV, and other drug related health problems.

This perspective is incorrect, and can be highly damaging – while at an individual level, abstinence from drug use can of course be an effective way of reducing health risks, global experience of over 25 years of harm reduction has clearly shown that national strategies based on abstinence-only approaches are ineffective at curbing drug related HIV epidemics.

Abstinence and harm reduction strategies are often presented as competing alternatives, whereas in a fully comprehensive response to drug dependence, they should operate as mutually supporting elements of an integrated system.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.