Support, don’t punish: Drug decriminalization is harm reduction


Support, don’t punish: Drug decriminalization is harm reduction

14 February 2023
Jeffrey Bratberg
Adrienne Simmons
Vibhuti Arya
Aneesha Bhatia
Sheila P. Vakharia

Despite large investments in and policy support for harm reduction including naloxone, syringes, and medications for opioid use disorder, people who use drugs continue to experience unprecedented rates of mortality from overdose and morbidity from infectious diseases. The criminalization of drug use has disproportionately exacerbated these drug-related harms and imposed short- and long-term burdens on already marginalized and vulnerable populations. Pharmacy professionals and students are not immune to the effects of drug criminalization, where one conviction can lead to the loss of their license, employment, or educational progress. Communities become less healthy and stagnate in punitive criminalization systems, further reducing opportunities for growth. Decriminalization of drug use and possession is an urgently needed and effective approach to drug use that shifts resources from punishment to public health, thereby reducing the negative impacts of drug use and keeping communities safe and healthy. Pharmacists play essential roles in the prevention and management of drug misuse and use disorders. As policy makers consider and implement drug decriminalisation, pharmacists must actively advocate for these policies and educate community and organisational partners on the individual, professional, and community benefits of this harm reduction strategy.

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