Australia is one of the leading countries responding to the global health cost relating to illicit drug use. Australian Governments work collaboratively with organisations and communities to address the social, economic, and health issues faced by illicit drug users and the community. The global issue for health policy makers in Australia is that over 80-85% of people in Australia who have contracted blood borne diseases such as hepatitis C or AIDS has occurred through sharing equipment linked to illegal drug use. Hepatitis C has not received the global media attention that AIDS received yet it is the ‘most commonly reported infectious disease in Australia today’ (Hep C Resource Manual pg. 1).
The issue for Health Care Policy makers and workers in the industry has been that illegal drug use, of course, is illegal, so what do you do with diseases which are spread through illegal drug use whilst reducing risk and trying to stop the spread of infection, disease and deaths in the community?. Australian’s overall philosophy to this question is through harm minimisation.
Harm minimisation is the policy that underpins the National and State Public Health strategies such as National Drug Strategy 2010-2015. Harm minimisation is Australian’s approach to reducing drug-related harm relating to both legal and illegal drugs and involves supply reduction, demand reduction and harm reduction strategies. Supply reduction; demand reduction and harm reduction is a simple concept for a difficult issue facing society. Supply reduction aims to disrupt production and distribution of illicit drugs, which health care professionals and policy is not part of, this is a role for law enforcement and not for health care workers. Demand reduction is reducing demand for taking or starting to take harmful drugs which is done through education programs, like people attending at schools to give talks or through advertisements on TV, magazines, radio and other media and also through fear of police involvement and finally harm reduction which is reducing the harm of drug users, even though illegal and reducing harm in the community. Harm reduction focuses on preventing and/or reducing the harm associated with risky activities, not on preventing people from doing activities. The term is a simple one and can relate to all types of drug use without judgement calls to users and it puts the focus more on the health and safety of the person rather than blame or judgement. An example would be for an alcoholic to try to consume a glass of water in-between drinks. This concept has been around for a long time. Apparently in early century China , many drunken people fell into canals and drowned near the local drinking area, but preventing alcohol use was difficult so they built fenced around the canals to prevent deaths, another example is seatbelts in cars preventing harm through car accidents.
Harm minimisation provides people who inject illegal drugs with the capacity and resources to make decisions about their drug use. There are no judgements about drug use instead the philosophe is to accept that some people choose to inject drugs. Harm reduction encourages a change in the way drugs are used to reduce health risks such as catching hepatitis C and AIDS. It is estimated that 25,000 HIV infections and 21,000 hepatitis C infections between the period 1988 to 2000 have been prevented (Annual Surveillance Report, National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, 2004). Of all new Hepatitis infections in Australia, 90% result from the sharing or re-use of contaminated drug injecting equipment and only 10% from other sources such as tattooing and body piercing and mother to baby transmission. (Hepatitis C Manual). Australia has a multifaceted prevention response to Hep C and other blood borne viruses based on the concept of harm reduction and the key component of the national response by providing sterile injecting equipment through the...
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