Civil society involvement in harm reduction drug policy: Reflections on the past, expectations for the future

Harm Reduction Journal


Civil society involvement in harm reduction drug policy: Reflections on the past, expectations for the future

17 February 2021

By Aileen O’Gorman and Eberhard Schatz / Harm Reduction Journal

In recent decades, a range of civil society organisations (CSOs) (such as drug user groups, non-governmental or third sector organisations, and networks of existing organisations) have sought to shape the development of drugs policy at national and international levels. Tese CSOs engage in peer, professional, and public policy advocacy and seek to efect change mainly through legislation, resource allocation, and service provision.

Civil society involvement in drug, and other, policy making has been enabled by the expansion of ‘democratic spaces’ for civil society participation at national and supranational level. By participating in such spaces (e.g. by writing submissions, or contributing to government committees and consultative fora) and seeking to infuence the formal policy making process, many CSOs have shifted focus from their traditional ‘outsider’ activist role to adopt an ‘insider’ strategy in the belief that social change occurs through politics.

However, the capacity for civil society to infuence harm reduction discourses and drug policies from the inside is shaped by the contexts in which they operate. At a national level, the level of ‘enabling environment’ for civil society is key. So too are the prevailing views regarding drug use and harm reduction, the extent and range of public health services to address drugrelated harms; and the local level of drug regulation and law enforcement. At a supra national level, there are spaces with varying levels of scope for infuencing drug policy. For example, the Vienna NGO committee (VNGOC) facilitates CSO access to the United Nations Ofce of Drugs and Crime and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND); and the EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs provides a platform for dialogue and interaction with the European Commission and for feeding grassroots experience, expertise, and recommendations into European drug strategies and action plans.


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