By Carol Holly
The Harm Reduction conference is held in a different country every two years and provides a forum for sharing the latest research, programs and policy in drug use, harm reduction* and human rights. The conference is convened by Harm Reduction International (HRI) – an organisation that promotes harm reduction and rights-based, evidence-based responses to drug use.
What I like about the HRI conference is that HRI always works in partnership with the local Drug User Organisation or peer program to facilitate drug users’ participation in the conference. As the conference was held in Melbourne this year, the local peer-based organisation Harm Reduction Victoria co-hosted the conference.
Awards were given out at the Opening Ceremony, and the inaugural Gill Bradbury Award (awarded to an individual, group or organisation providing excellent services to people who use drugs) went to the AIVL National Peer Network, of which the Hepatitis SA CNP Peer Projects is a member. It was great to see peers’ contribution to harm reduction acknowledged on an international level.
This year the overarching themes were drug law reform (decriminalization of small quantities of drugs for personal use and/or the sale of small quantities of drugs ie ‘user dealers’) and ‘safer supply’, as a result of the tragic impact of fentanyl and its analogues. Fentanyl and fentanyl analogues have contributed to the deaths of many tens of thousands of people in the US and Canada. I can only be thankful that fentanyl has not made huge inroads into the Australian supply but I believe that we must have our SA response prepared if/when it does.
The conference presentations and panel discussions were enlightening but it is the opportunities for networking and sharing experiences that I will remember for longer. I was inspired by hearing about civil disobedience and what’s happening on the ground to improve the lives of people who use drugs.
I participated in the workshop to develop the Conference Declaration, which was read out at the closing ceremony. The Melbourne Declaration advocates for the genuine inclusion and representation of people who use drugs, demands equitable health and social outcomes and an end to criminalisation and prohibition of drug use.
*Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to minimise the negative health, social and legal impacts associated with drug use, drug policies and drug laws. Harm reduction is grounded in justice and human rights. It focuses on positive change and on working with people without judgement, coercion, discrimination, or requiring that people stop using drugs as a precondition of support.