Latin American countries have been riddled with drug trafficking and drug use for many years. Until recently, the only option available to those that used drugs were imposed sanctions from the government and those placed in positions to make sure those sanctions were enforced. Although countries like Brazil and Argentina have a long way to go when it comes to harm reduction strategies, there are non-governmental organizations like PREVER that helping to change the way those in government and society view those individuals who use drugs. This paper takes a look at some of the non-governmental organizations and some of the programs that they are implementing in some of the countries in Latin America as well as some of the struggles that they face in implementing these programs.
Harm reduction is a public health philosophy, which promotes methods of reducing the physical, social, emotional, and economic harms associated with drug and alcohol use and other harmful behaviors on individuals and their community. Harm reduction methods and treatment goals are free of judgment or blame and directly involve the client in setting their own goals.
Related to drug use, one definition of harm reduction is ” Harm reduction is any policy or program designed to reduce drug-related harm without requiring the cessation of drug use. Interventions may be targeted at the individual, the family, community or society” (CAHM, 2003, at http://www.doctordeluca.com/Library/AbstinenceHR/CAMH&HR03.pdf).
According to CAHM (2003),
“Examples of proven harm reduction programs are: server intervention programs which decrease public drunkenness; needle and syringe exchange programs which prevent the transmission of HIV among injection drug users; and, environmental controls on tobacco smoking which limit the exposure to second hand smoke. In the general population, harm reduction may help to focus efforts where real harm potential lies and guide scarce prevention resources there rather than to areas of less serious risk. Harm reduction policies might also include enforcement of criminal or regulatory laws. Punitive sanctions (prison) are reserved for drug users that are aimed at hurting themselves or others, and also at providing drugs to minors, for example. Public health regulations generally provide more flexibility in fitting the solution to the problem.”
Although, not everyone would agree with CAHM’s ideas about harm reduction, it seems that harm reduction policies may indeed be considered the best alternative for those persons for whom treatment, prevention or criminal sanctions have not been effective. Harm reduction is not synonymous with legalization, and in adopting a harm reduction philosophy; it does not mean support for legalization of drugs Harm reduction recognizes a balance between control and compassion within a framework of respect for individual rights. However, drug policy reform that is compatible with harm reduction initiatives has already been determined as worthy of support by CAMH (e.g. its official endorsement of the development of an evidence based cannabis policy, to replace the present reliance on criminalization of possession). The strategy is based on research. According to CAHM (2003), for example, “harm reduction is grounded in the empirical knowledge of a continuum of drug use, where harm may occur at any level. The extent of use, or use itself, is not the issue. The primary focus of harm reduction is on people who are already experiencing some harm due to their substance use. The most appropriate interventions, whether macro or micro, are those geared to movement from more to less harm.”
Decriminalization is the repeal or amendment (undoing) of statutes, which made certain acts criminal, so that those acts no longer are crimes or subject to prosecution. Many states have decriminalized certain sexual practices between consenting adults, “loitering,” (hanging out without any criminal activity), or out-moded racist laws against miscegenation (marriage or cohabitation between people of different races). Currently, there is a considerable movement toward decriminalization of the use of some narcotics (particularly marijuana) by adults, on various grounds, including individual rights and contention that decriminalization would take the profit out of the drug trade by making drugs available through clinics and other legal sources. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/decriminalization
In relation to drugs, decriminalization is a system that punishes offences by means other than prison. Fines for most traffic violations are an example. In relation to drugs, it is normally limited to possession (and sometimes growth) of small amounts (often around one ounce) and sometimes to sale of equally small amounts to adults. It is also often limited to marijuana among the illegal drugs. There is another distinction possible between de jure decriminalization, which entails an amendment to criminal legislation, and de facto decriminalization, which involves an administrative decision not to prosecute acts that nonetheless remain subject to arrest and imprisonment under the law. Some cities have simply decided de facto to specify that enforcement of some marijuana laws is the “lowest priority” for their police forces. (The Drug Policy Forum of Texas, n.d)