Brazil’s federal government is discussing a decree to regulate the policy of reducing the harm caused by narcotics consumption in Brazil. The debate is led by the Ministry of Health, responsible for disease prevention and treatment of drug users.
The Ministry’s coordinator of Mental Health, Pedro Delgado, informs that the decree defines the role and function of health professionals who work with harm reduction and regulates prevention activities (distribution of syringes and condoms).
Two other items are being considered by the Ministries of Health and Justice, the National Anti-drug Secretariat, and the Presidential Civilian Advisory Staff.
One of them foresees the adoption of substitute treatments, that is, the use of less destructive drugs to substitute ones that are more damaging and pernicious.
The other item under analysis is the establishment of safe drug-consumption centers, on a trial basis. “They would be places meant to lessen the life risk to the seriously ill and the risk of death from overdose,” the coordinator reveals.
“These places would act as health service portals for patients who live in large urban centers and are more seriously addicted.”
For Delgado, the federal government is in a phase of “consolidating norms.” He believes that President Lula will sign the decree regulating the harm reduction policy before the year ends.
Back to the ’80’s
According to a study by the Brazilian Harm Reduction Network (Reduc), the first debates and actions in this area emerged in Brazil in the decade of the ’80’s.
At the time there was a recognition of more flexible, realistic, and pragmatic approaches in the treatment of drug users.
The first attempt to distribute syringes to chemically dependent individuals occurred in Santos (SP) in 1989.
In the decade of the ’90’s, universities began to discuss the harm reduction policies adopted in other countries.
In 1992 the Federal University of Bahia inaugurated the first university program for the exchange of needles.
Three years later, the National Coordinating body for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS (STD/AIDS) began to consider the distribution of syringes as a strategy for containing the HIV virus.
The federal government initiated its activities in this field through non-governmental organizations, which continue to be the loci of the majority of harm reduction agents, who are responsible for identifying drug users, contacting them, teaching preventive measures, and offering treatment.
According to Delgado, the decree to regulate the harm reduction policy will also provide legal protection for these agents, who are currently liable to police and court actions.
“The exchange of syringes and the distribution of condoms among drug users are responsible for reducing the cases of infection from AIDS and types B and C hepatitis,” Delgado informs.
“The rate of AIDS contamination in this segment of the population used to be 50.6%. After a year and a half of the national syringe distribution program, it dropped to around 34%.”
Translator: David Silberstein