Social Policy : Drug Policy And Crime - Harm Reduction And Prohibition

Social Policy - Drug policy and crime - Harm reduction vs Prohibition

Harmful drugs are an issue that creates controversy just by being mentioned, let alone acted upon by public policy. Despite this, policy actors must address drugs, through action or inaction, for the chance to make our society safer and healthier. Scientists and policy makers tend to agree that some drugs can be harmful to their users (Nordegren, 2002), but there are two broad camps of opinion on how best to protect users from these negative effects. This paper will discuss the ways that the policies of harm reduction and prohibition are formed, and identify the key actors in this policy space.

This policy issue would not exist, were it not for the people affected by drug policy, the drug users. Drug users can encapsulate anything from a heroin addicts, to those who rely on prescribed pharmaceutical drugs for pain. These drug users are all policy actors, who are influenced by policy changes made at a government level. There are a range of reasons why people use drugs, from purely recreational, through to strong mental illness and addiction. However, despite being the ones most affected, and most at risk from drug policy, history has shown that drug users rarely get any real input into drug policy decisions (Hathaway, 2001). Drug users are part of the policy universe, and therefore have a say in the ‘Agenda-setting’ stage of the policy cycle (Howlett, Ramesh, & Perl, 2009). However, drug users could be seen to have less political power on their specific issue than many other groups in society. Because of the taboo, and in some cases criminal, nature of their activities, it becomes much more difficult to form organised interest groups, or even simply to gain p...

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...nals from those who believe that if there is stronger policing and prohibition on drugs, fewer people will be able to access them and therefore less net negative effect of drugs on personal health; and those who support harm reduction, who believe that people will still find ways to access harmful drugs, regardless of prohibition, and that instead we should focus on education and support programs - with addicts able to seek help, without the fear of arrest (Adamson & Todd, 2010). An example of the influence that health professionals have as a policy actor in this case is from Portugal. In response to the extreme levels of heroin usage in Portugal in the 1990’s under prohibition, health actors campaigned for a harm reduction policy, which took troubled addicts out of the prison system and offered them medical help, with the criminal side taking a focus on the suppliers

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