Harm Reduction International

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Harm Reduction International

Harm Reduction International, formerly known as International Harm Reduction Association, describes itself as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and works in the field of harm reduction.[1] In 1990, the first International Harm Reduction conference was held in Liverpool, England.[2] As Liverpool was one of the first cities in Britain to instigate harm reduction policies, including opening one of the first government-funded needle exchanges under the 'Mersey Harm Reduction Model', the first International Harm Reduction Conference attracted a diverse range of harm reduction proponents, including academics, community workers, medical professionals and drug user activists.

Following the success of the first International Harm Reduction Conference, an annual International Harm Reduction Conference was held in a different country each year. These annual international conferences were integral in promoting the principles of harm reduction, influencing local drug-related policies and building networks of harm reduction practitioners and drug user activists.

In 1997, the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA) was launched at the 7th International Harm Reduction Conference in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The initial aims of IHRA were to enable networking and communication between conferences, and facilitate collective advocacy for health-based approaches to drug use and HIV; however, in 2006, IHRA expanded its activities beyond facilitating the annual harm reduction conference to include directly working on public health research, analysis and advocacy and began to undertake a more sustained approach to highlighting the human right violations experienced by illicit drug users in many parts of the world.[3]

As of November 2012, there have been 22 international conferences held across the globe,[4] which have become the primary international meeting and networking point for drug user activists and community-based organizations.[3]

In 2011, the IHRA changed its name to Harm Reduction International.

Vision and mission[edit]

Harm Reduction International primarily engages in advocacy to reduce the harms resulting from policies relating to the use of illicit drugs. Through promoting evidenced-based public health policies and promoting a human rights-based best practice approach to drug policy reform, Harm Reduction International aims to achieve global social change in which individuals and communities benefit from drug laws, policies and practices that promote the health, dignity and human rights of illicit drug users.

Harm Reduction International's work includes supporting and undertaking research, analysis, advocacy and strengthening the capacity of civil society to engage in harm reduction and drug policy reform initiatives.[5]


Each year, Harm Reduction International presents a number of awards at international conference to acknowledge the contributions of outstanding groups or individuals in the field.[6]

Rolleston Award[edit]

The award is named after Sir Humphry Rolleston, President of the Royal College of Physicians who chaired the UK Departmental Committee on Morphine and Heroin Addiction. In 1926 this committee concluded that the prescription of heroin or morphine could be regarded as legitimate medical treatment for those in whom withdrawal produces serious symptoms that cannot be treated satisfactorily under normal practice and, for those for who are able to lead a useful and fairly normal life so long as they take a certain non-progressive quantity, usually small, of the drug of addiction, but cease to be able to do so when the regular allowance is withdrawn.
This decision epitomises a benign, pragmatic and humane approach to drug problems, and was a landmark event in the history of harm reduction.[7][8]

International Rolleston Award[edit]

This award was first presented at the 3rd International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm in Melbourne in 1992. Each year, it is given to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to reducing harms from psychoactive substances at an international level.

National Rolleston Award[edit]

This award was first presented at the ‘3rd International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm’ in Melbourne in 1992.
Each year, it is given to an individual or organisation for their outstanding contributions to reducing harm from psychoactive substances at the national level in the country that is hosting the harm reduction conference.