Tree-huggers learn from junkies: needle exchange goes green

Needle exchange usually gets a pretty bad press. So I was surprised, as I wandered by accident into the greenosphere today, to find that harm reduction models could save the world.

Colin Beavan draws a parallel between injectors and consumers. You can’t break an addiction to consumer goods any more easily than you can break an addiction to smack, he suggests. So why not work on programmes that reduce the damage done by consumption, while quietly working to wean people off their self-destructive behaviour? I’m pleased to see the value of harm reduction recognised. But I rather fear that Colin’s missing an essential point.

“There is no question that excess consumption both causes damage to the planetary habitat and has the potential to make people less happy. A “reduce consumption” message is good for the planet and good for the people.”

The thing is, when people are consuming drugs it doesn’t make them less happy, it makes them more happy. That’s why they take them for long enough to get addicted. Yes, drugs can send your life into a meltdown and make you pretty miserable eventually, but most people who take drugs don’t think an reduce consumption message is good for them, any more than most people who consume i-Pods think that. Colin’s point, so far. The big difference, though, is this: there’s a consensus among people who don’t take drugs that filling your body with toxic and intoxicating substances isn’t a smart or desirable thing to do. But we’re still a very long way indeed from that kind of social disapproval of consumerism. In fact, consumption continues to be approved of and actively promoted by the vast majority of humans. Most people buy i-Pods because they think having one will make them happier. They think that because there’s a massive, multi-squillion dollar industry telling them so. And they may even be right.

Heads up to the greens — harm reduction is a hard enough sell even when you’re trying to work to reduce things that most people believe to be harmful. The thought of reducing the harms associated with something everyone is happy about makes me want to go and take drugs.

This post was published on 31/03/08 in War on drugs.

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