Harm Reduction is the way in which Australia aims to address some of the negative effects which drug use can have on an individual and the community. It acknowledges that many people in Australia, and the world will at some point in time decide to try drugs and hopes to provide accurate and credible information to people so that if/when they do decide to use drugs they are aware how to take these drugs in the safest possible way (there is no safe way to use drugs).
Some recent research aimed at young people has reported up to 50% of the young people surveyed had used an illegal drug (or a legal drug illegally such as taking someone else’s prescription medication) in the previous 12 months. This shows the importance of accurate and reliable education being provided to young people to ensure that any harm that may occur because of illicit drug use is reduced. Legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco are also widely used among young people and harm reduction and safer using information is an important aspect to reduce the harms that can be associated with using these as well.
There are many ways to categorise or identify the many types of drugs that are available in Australia. One of the easiest ways to separate drugs into groups is by sorting them by what effects they have on a person. For example:
- when someone uses Methamphetamine (such as ice, or crystal meth) the effect is a heightened awareness and energy level along with many other effects. For these reasons this is classified as a stimulant.
- When someone drinks alcohol one of the effects is that it relaxes you and you can also become drowsy or even unconscious. For these reasons it is classified as a depressant.
- When someone uses LSD (such as a trip, or acid) they can experience hallucinations and sensations which are not real. For these reasons it is classified as a hallucinogen.
It is important to also know that most drugs have many different effects and can affect different people in many different ways. For example cannabis can have hallucinogenic effects for some people, but is still classified as a depressant because it relaxes the body. It’s all based on what the particular drug does to the central nervous system (CNS), or the part of your body that controls how you move, think, and breathe and so on.
Below is a table which shows what drugs are considered to be stimulants, what drugs are considered to be depressants and what drugs are considered to be hallucinogens. This table is based on the effect which the drug has on your central nervous system or CNS.
Drug Classification Table
It’s also important to be aware of the effects of the drug being used to know how to look after yourself and your friends who may be using. These things can include making sure you eat before using, making sure you drink lots of water while using and making sure that you’re in an environment that is not going to contribute to bad experiences or increased harms.When discussing harm reduction and safer drug using information, there are many different things to consider including what type of drug is being used, what way the drug is being used (i.e. swallowed, snorted, injected, drank etc.), how much is being used and where the drugs will be used. These all have implications on the types of information and education needed.
AIVL believes it’s extremely important for everyone who may know someone who is using to have as much information as possible so that they can help if anything does go wrong, and also so they can pass on the information to their friends if the person isn’t aware of the information available. This is all about looking after for your friends and caring about their wellbeing and is what makes peer education such an important aspect of harm reduction and safer using.
For more information on harm reduction and safer drug using information, contact your local drug user organisation. Drug user organisations are a great place to get accurate and credible information from people who won’t judge you for your decision to use drugs and most of the people who work at drug user organisations have been or still are drug users themselves, so you can be sure you’ll be talking to someone who understands you and your decision to use drugs in as safer way as possible.
Alternatively check out the links below for websites where you can get information on safer drug use and harm reduction.
- Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League – AIVL
- Australian Government Drugs Campaign
- Blue light
- The Vaults of Erowid – General Drug Information
- The Australian Drug Foundation – ADF
- Australian National Council on Drugs – ANCD – Drug and Alcohol Information
- Health Insite – Drug and Alcohol Information
- Youth Rise – International Young People & Harm Reduction Group
- National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre – Fact Sheets