“Harm Reduction”: Combining Drug Use Information Awareness and Personal Choice Prevention

Shana HarrisOut of Harm’s Way:
An Ethnography of Harm Reduction in Argentina

Shana Harris, Ph.D.
National Development and Research Institutes

Wed., April 9, 2014: 3:00 – 4:00 PM

In: Howard Phillips Hall, room 409-M, 4th floor

Drug abuse continues as a focus of study and prevention, with new models of intervention in the works each day. With the posing topic of HIV/AIDS only fueling the fire to implement widespread information on safety, “harm reduction” now enables health care professionals to shift the emphasis from forced elimination of use to reduction of negative consequences.

Shana Harris, of National Development and Research Institutes, will be sitting down with us on Wednesday, April 9th to discuss Argentina’s drug abuse epidemic and the need for “harm reduction” as a solution. Argentina’s high rate of drug use-related HIV prevalence draws in 16 months worth of ethnographic fieldwork information, highlighting the need for utilization of “harm reduction” and present use in local Argentinean non-governmental organizations.

This colloquium talk will be discussing the “harm reductionist” dynamic in integrating perspectives of both “public health” and “rights”, shifting focus from contradictory to complimentary. Rather than back-step when dealing with drug prevention in relation to drug user rights, “harm reduction” takes into perspective the new methods of information awareness, alongside personal choice prevention.

 Scroll below for more information on Dr. Harris’ Presentation

The emergence of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s prompted a dramatic shift in the way public health professionals around the world addressed the issue of drug use. For the first time, interventions were now developed to specifically address the transmission of blood-borne diseases among drug users on a large scale. Some of the most prominent interventions were those based on “harm reduction,” a public health model that places emphasis on reducing the negative consequences of drug use rather than on eliminating use or ensuring abstinence. This colloquium talk will present research on the adoption and promotion of the harm reduction model in Argentina, a country with one of the highest rates of drug use-related HIV prevalence in all of Latin America.

Based on 16 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Argentina between 2006 and 2008, this talk will show how local non-governmental organizations have utilized harm reduction to inform their work with drug users since the mid-1990s. It will also examine how Argentine harm reductionists approach drug use from a joint “public health” and “rights” perspective, a dual focus that is complimentary rather than contradictory. This twofold approach uniquely influences their implementation of community-based interventions as well as their promotion of policies that frame drug users as rights-bearing “citizens.” This presentation will highlight the specific work of these organizations, and illustrate ethnographically how harm reduction in Argentina is rendering drug use and drug users thinkable in new ways. It will further draw connections between Argentina and transnational concerns around drug policies across Latin America.

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