This guide has been written to assist municipalities in British Columbia in taking a leadership and a facilitative role in reducing the level of drug related harm in their communities. In particular, it contains information about an approach to these problems that has become known as harm reduction. It sets out the evidence and potential benefits of using a harm reduction approach to address the harms associated with problematic substance use.
The use of drugs and alcohol is a complex and sensitive area of public policy. Municipalities are already on the front line. They bear the brunt of mounting costs for policing and enforcement. Public order and safety may be put at risk by open drug use in communities. Without coordinated action, public health systems can become overburdened with problems arising from the spread of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases related to drug use, particularly injection drug use.
Municipalities, however, are also repositories of knowledge, skills, and innovative problem solving ideas. These are the key to successful mobilization of community resources. Municipalities can exert influence on policy in areas such as public and community health, housing, social services, community safety, recreational services, development and zoning, licensing and by-laws.
The central task is to encourage a constructive dialogue that leads to agreement and action among key stakeholders, including drug users, service providers, residents, businesses, educators, police, health authorities, local governments and Aboriginal communities. This process is greatly assisted by the dissemination of evidence-based information about harm reduction and how it supports policies and programs aimed at improving the health and well being of the entire population.
This guide provides an overview of harm reduction and various actions that can be taken at the municipal level to develop a strategy for mobilizing communities around harm reduction. It focuses on supporting the development of a community response using the traditional authority of municipal jurisdictions.