Red Cross on drugs

The International Red Cross has published a report advocating for harm reduction. It advances the usual harm reduction memes: “spreading the light of science” and preaching human rights while failing to argue for a right to recovery-oriented services.

It includes inane positions:

The Commission … lauded former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for supporting Recovery Month, an annual observance that takes place every September.

It ennoblizes and fetishizes active addiction:

Nikolay and Irina spend all their money on ‘semechki’, a home made poppy-seed paste … Their families have long since kicked them out. They work, they live, they use. Sober hours are spent wishing they had never started, till the rats start scratching in their brains and the only thing they can focus on is their next ‘hit’—their next ‘shot’. Release is immediate: the bliss, the love… until it wears off and the ‘hate-it-need-it-love-it’ cycle starts up all over again.
To the casual observer, Nikolay and Irina are just another couple of junkies, human refuse floating on the post-Soviet sea of despair. But they have a purpose. Nikolay and Irina are saving lives, needle by needle. Every day, they commute to a shabby apartment crouched under the shadow of two massive chimneystacks on the edge of town and begin their work.
Each has 40 clients who inject several times a day. Nikolay and Irina bring them clean needles and take back the used needles…
Nikolay and Irina know the streets, know the users, know the risks. They are trusted in a way no police, partner, parent or religious leader could ever be. That’s why they go to schools and tell children what it is like to be a user: how tough, ugly and dangerous it can be. We don’t say, “just say no”, we say, “this is how it is. You choose”

It’s attention to treatment is underwhelming and it is written as though drug-free doesn’t exist and full recovery is not possible. It rejects coerced treatment and asserts a right to addictive drug use.

However, they include this very interesting hierarchy of harm reduction objectives:

The hierarchy of harm reduction objectives is:

  • Enter into drug dependence treatment. Those offering long-term medications such as methadone maintenance are more effective.
  • If drug dependence treatment is not an option, switch from injecting to non-injecting drug use.
  • If injecting continues, always use sterile injecting equipment and do not share equipment or drug solutions.
  • If it is not possible to use sterile injecting equipment clean and reuse your own equipment and do not share it.
  • If sharing does occur, clean injecting equipment between each use (using bleach, for example). Do not share ‘cookers’, drug containers or filters used for injecting, and do not use or share water for rinsing or mixing.

For a document that so aggressively promotes harm reduction this is radical and welcome. I look forward to seeing this expanded upon.