Responsible drug use

Responsible drug use

Responsible drug use is a harm reduction strategy which argues that a person can use illegal drugs, or illegally use legal drugs, with reduced or eliminated risk of negatively affecting other parts of one's life or the lives of others. Some critics believe that all recreational drug use is inherently irresponsible, due to the unpredictable, unregulated nature of many illicit drugs and the risk for addiction, infection, and other side effects. Nevertheless, harm reduction advocates claim that a drug user can use drugs responsibly by avoiding of hazardous situations, excessive doses, hazardous combinations of drugs, using the smallest dose necessary, avoiding injection, and not doing drugs at the same time as activities such as driving or operating machinery, which could pose safety risks.


Duncan and Gold argue that to use legal and illegal drugs responsibly, a person must adhere to a list of principles [Duncan, D. F., and Gold, R. S. (1982). Chapter 18: Responsibilities of the recreational drug user. In: "Drugs and the Whole Person". New York: Wiley. Available online at] . They argue that drug users must understand and educate themselves on the effects and legal status of the drug they are taking, measure accurate dosages and taking other precautions to reduce the risk of overdose, and chemically test all drugs they are using to determine their purity and strength. As well, they argue that drug users should avoid driving, operating heavy machinery, or otherwise being directly or indirectly responsible for the safety or care of another person while intoxicated. When taking hallucinogenic drugs, they suggest that a user have a trip sitter. They also propose some ethical guidelines, such as the statement that a person should never trick or persuade anyone to use a drug, allow drug use to overshadow other aspects of one's life, and being morally conscious of the source of the drugs that you are using.

Duncan and Gold suggested that responsible drug use involves responsibility in three areas: situational responsibilities, health responsibilities, and safety-related responsibilities. Among situational responsibilities they included concerns over the possible situations in which drugs might be used legally. This includes the avoidance of hazardous situations, not using when alone, nor using due to coercion or when the use of drugs itself is the sole reason for use. Health responsibilities include avoidance of excessive doses or hazardous combinations of drugs, awareness of possible health consequences of drug use, and not using a drug recreationally during periods of excessive stress. Safety-related responsibilities include using the smallest dose necessary to achieve the desired effects, using only in relaxed settings with supportive companions, avoiding the use of drugs by injection, and not using drugs while performing complex tasks or those where the drug might impair one's ability to function safely.

Responsible drug use is emphasized as a primary prevention technique in harm-reduction drug policies. Harm-reduction policies were popularized in the late 1980s although they began in the 1970s counter-culture where users were distributed cartoons explaining responsible drug use and consequences of irresponsible drug use. [This is cited on page 366 in The Sociology of American Drug Use by Charles E. Faupel, Alan M. Horowitz, Greg S. Weaver. published by McGraw Hill.]


Critics believe that recreational drug use is inherently irresponsible (in that they view the possible drug use as outweighing any possible benefits, or that all drug use is a (fruitless) attempt to escape reality, or disapprove of illegal activities (drug use is illegal in many societies). These critics believe that drugs can therefore never be used 'responsibly'. Fact|date=May 2007 One reason for this is that the unpredictable, unregulated nature of many illicit drugs carries inherent risks that might not be avoidable, even with great care, although proponents of responsible drug use would reply that these problems can be solved by legalization and regulation. Some types of drugs are very addictive, and even moderate use may result in a strong physical need for an increased dosage, with possible concomitant physical and social problems. While some people may be able to use some drugs for many years without serious consequences, others may have an unexpected reaction to the drug, even on first use. A single use of some illegal drugs, or legal drugs used illegally, may cause death or some other negative reaction, including a loss of control that may result in harm to others. Many critics consider it unrealistic to think that very many people will adhere to the principles of responsible use. Fact|date=May 2007

The stigmatized concept of a "recreational drug" does not feature in some societies. Members of the Rastafari movement, for example, use cannabis in religious rituals and some have no concept of it as a "recreational", much less "party", drug. Finally, some stigmatized and illegal recreational drugs are physiologically and psychologically safer than alcohol.


Purity and potency of many drugs is difficult to assess as they are illegal, this may affect the ability to use them safely. Some people, therefore, argue that decriminalization of drug production and distribution could alleviate some of the most significant dangers of illegal drug use. The illegality of drugs in itself may also cause social and economic consequences for those using them. The morality of buying certain illegal drugs is also questioned given that the trade in cocaine, for instance, has been estimated to cause 3,000 deaths a year in Colombia alone. Some advocates for responsible drug use claim that the US government's war on drugs is responsible for these deaths, noting that pushing these drugs onto the black market inflates their value and potentially puts thousands of lives in danger.

Harm reduction

Harm reduction began as a philosophy in the 1980s aiming to minimize HIV transmission between intravenous drug users. It also focused on condom usage to prevent the transmission of HIV through sexual contact.

Harm reduction worked so effectively that researchers and community policy makers adapted the theory to other diseases to which drug users were susceptible, such as Hepatitis C.

Harm reduction seeks to minimize the harms that can occur through the use of various drugs, whether legal e.g. alcohol and nicotine, or illegal e.g. heroin and cocaine). For example, people who inject illicit drugs can minimize harm to both themselves and members of the community through proper injecting technique, using new needles and syringes each time, and through proper disposal of all injecting equipment.

Other harm reduction methods have been implemented with drugs such as crack cocaine. In some cities, peer health advocates (Weeks, 2006) have participated in passing out clean crack pipe mouthpiece tips to minimize the risk of Hepatitis A, B and C and HIV due to sharing pipes while lips and mouth contain open sores.

The responsible user therefore minimises the spread of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV in the wider community.

afe Injection Sites (SiS)

Safe injection sites operate under the premise of harm reduction by providing the injection drug user with a clean space and clean materials such as needles, sterile water, alcohol swabs, and other items used for safe injection.

Vancouver, British Columbia [Vancouver Coastal Health (2007)] opened a SiS called Insight in its poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. Insight was opened in 2003 and has dramatically reduced many harms associated with injection drug use. The research arm of the site, run by The Centre of Excellence for HIV/AIDS has found that [] SiS leads to increases in people entering detox and addiction treatment without increasing drug-related crime. As well, it reduces the littering of drug paraphernalia (e.g., used needles) on the street and reduces the number of people injecting in public areas. The program is attracting the highest-risk users, which has led to less needle-sharing in the Downtown Eastside community, and in the 453 overdoses which occurred at the facility, health care staff have saved every person.

In the Netherlands, where drug use is considered a social and health-related issue and not a law-related one, the government has opened clinics where drug users may consume their substances in a safe, clean environment. Users are given access to clean needles and other paraphernalia, monitored by health officials and are given the ability to seek help from drug addiction. []

ee also

*Counterfeit drug
*Recreational drug use
*Straight edge
*Demand reduction
*Harm reduction
*Psychoactive drug
*Drug injection

External links

* [ Fact sheets on responsible recreational drug use]
* [ The History of Harm Reduction]
* [ Towards a Culture of Responsible Psychoactive Drug Use]
* [ Erowid]
* [ Dextroverse]


Nicholson, T., & Duncan, D. (2002). Is recreational drug use normal? "Journal of Substance Use", 7, 116-123. Available online at

Weeks, M. (2006). The risk avoidance partnership: training active drug users as peer health advocates. "Journal of Drug Issues(36)3:" 541-570.

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