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What is a harm reduction approach and why should you use it?

Alcohol and other drugs are prevalent in many different aspects of our lives. Of the people that choose to use drugs, some will use regularly while others will use occasionally at one-off events.

In the past, the main approach towards addressing drug use was to criminalise it. We now know that this approach does not reduce drug use and can instead cause more harms for people that use drugs, often denying them the support they need. 

The world is slowly shifting towards the more effective ‘harm reduction’ approach. This approach treats drug use as a health issue. Rather than focusing on drug use itself, harm reduction focuses on how we can reduce the harm that come from using drugs. 

Once we accept the fact that drugs are in society and people are going to use them, it's beholden on us to look after those people, in the same way we prevent problems and look after people for any number of other issues.

Harm reduction or harm prevention is the only sensible way to look at it.

Mark Gosling, EVANZ Chairman, CEO of Trusts Arena

An example of a harm reduction approach is drug checking. Allowing people to see if their drug is what it was sold as, or something much more harmful, provides them with the information they need to make safer decisions. There is more information about drug checking, including guidance from the Ministry of Justice in the processes section.

Yellow sign saying Harm Reduction Know Your Stuff NZ with a happy and sad face symbol

Harm reduction in Aotearoa

The New Zealand Government supports harm reduction approaches, made evident by the recent legalisation of drug checking services. This means that event organisers now have more options for keeping their patrons safe from drug harm. 

There are many different things you can do to prevent drug harm at your event. This involves both prevention measures to stop drugs being brought into your event, as well as harm reduction measures to prevent medical incidents during the event. In order to prevent problems and keep patrons safe, it’s best to use a suite of approaches to address the issue from as many different angles as possible. 

Our step by step guide to build a drug management plan will walk you through everything you need to think about when developing your harm reduction approach.


Build your drug management plan

Health New Zealand - Te Whatu Ora

These resources have been created for event organisers, by event organisers. They were commissioned by Health Promotion, Health New Zealand -Te Whatu Ora, and the NZ Drug Foundation helped the working group share their expertise. Much thanks and appreciation to those who've contributed.