Harm reduction

During 2003 and 2004, several laws touching on the issue of harm reduction were passed.

In France, a law passed in August 2004 adopting the five-year public health policy plan incorporates the policy on harm reduction for drug users into the public health regulations, giving harm reduction an official definition and bringing it within the jurisdiction of the state.

In Finland, a government decree amended the Communicable Disease Act to state that communicable disease specialists in health centres should undertake prevention work, including the provision of health counselling for intravenous drug users and the implementation of needle and syringe exchanges as necessary. In Luxembourg, the grand ducal decree of December 2003 regulates the national syringes distribution programme by defining facilities and professionals authorised to provide syringes to drug users. This continues a trend towards permitting possession and supply of sterile syringes via explicit legislation (17) supported by the outgoing EU action plan 2000–04, which requested the development of provision of prophylactics. Further legal information can be found in the ELDD topic overview ‘Legal framework of needle and syringe programmes’ (18).

The Misuse of Drugs Act in the United Kingdom was amended in August 2003 to allow doctors, pharmacists and drug workers to legally supply swabs, sterile water, certain mixing utensils (including spoons, bowls, cups and dishes) and citric acid to drug users who obtained controlled drugs without a prescription. In June 2004, the Norwegian parliament adopted, for three years, the Temporary Act Relating to a Trial Scheme of Drug Injection Rooms. This exempts users of an injection room from punishment for the possession and use of a single dose of drugs and allowed a designated injection room to open in February 2005.

In the Czech Republic, several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provide tablet testing services, which aim to reduce the risk of an unknown or unexpected substance being consumed, although the legality of such schemes is hotly debated. There were no criminal prosecutions in 2003, and the only case brought so far by the police (a case from 2002) was rejected by the public prosecutor. The office of the supreme prosecutor has since issued guidance on the subject.

In line with these legislative developments, harm reduction services are generally recognised by the new EU strategy and action plan as a valid response to the demand for increased access to needle exchanges to reduce the drug-related risks to individual health and society as a whole.

(17) Seven countries have legislated since 1999: Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Finland.