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It has long been the consensus, among professionals and among the general public, that many people who have an addiction problem are never going to become permanently abstinent. And even among those who do eventually give up their addiction, there's no predicting when that will happen, or how many attempts are made prior to eventual success.
As a result, over the last decade a new 'philosophy' has emerged in regard to the provision of services, and it works like this: rather than attempting to eliminate drug use altogether, let's concentrate on reducing the negative consequences of it -- for the individual, the community, and society as a whole. (The British system of providing heroin to addicts was one of the earliest examples of this harm reduction approach). Harm reduction has generally proved to be effective, and gained increasing acceptance. It is now the 'official basis' of Australia's and Canada’s National Drug Strategy.
Harm reduction may refer to both a GOAL and a STRATEGY, and could include everything from running a needle exchange to decriminalizing certain substances. As an alternative approach to abstinence-oriented drug policy and programming, there are pros and cons to harm reduction, and, of course, no shortage of controversy.
Some further reading on the concept of harm reduction....
Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse Policy Paper on Harm Reduction
Ethics, Economics and Efficiency of Harm Reduction
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