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Prevention research evaluation report

Number 16 December 2005

insulting that there is no acknowledgement

that people can make a rational decision to use

the drug. I am wondering whether the focus

should be preventive use especially given the

normalisation of ecstasy use in some parts of

society

Another practitioner pointed out the fear appeal

messages used in such campaigns:

“I don’t think the ads on television are harm

reducing, I think they’re scare tactics and

unfortunately all the ecstasy users know

that they’re focusing in on one in 100,000

occurrences.”

Finally, another practitioner stated that:

“Based on the evidence it appears that it’s hard

to prevent drug use, but certainly we can help

people to delay their use, or to use it in a less

harmful way. So that might be more useful than

prevention.”

Overall, it seems that the general opinion among the

practitioners interviewed was that of dissatisfaction

with the current prevention strategies applied in

Australia. To approach the issue from the targeted

group’s (ecstasy users) perspective, Box 5 provides

us with a user’s opinion regarding the currently

available prevention programs.

Box 5: Ecstasy users’ opinions on antiecstasy

mass media campaigns

They’re really unrealistic… if they’re going

to make “Say no to ecstasy ads” they

should be a little bit more realistic than that

you’re going to overdose—because you’re

less likely to overdose than anything else…

Like I’ve never heard of one person having

anything like that ever happen to them…

So, you know what I mean It’s probably

not going to deter people that are already

taking it anyway.”

Harm reduction

What is harm reduction

On a continuum, with the prohibition strategy on one

end, and drug legalisation at the other end, harm

reduction would be placed somewhere in between.

This is a philosophy which incorporates policies and

strategies that support individuals in improving

their health and lives, by reducing the harm that

can result from their behaviours and circumstances.

Thus, it aims to improve health, social and economic

outcomes, for both the individual and the community.

The strategy recognises the existence of drug use

behaviours and aims to minimise the associated

harms. Harm reduction began during the mid-1980s

in Europe, in response to AIDS and other drugrelated

public health concerns. The model deals with

drug-related issues and consequences (for example,

safe sex, STI, crime) more humanely and effectively;

for example, through needle syringe exchange

programs, hygienic injection rooms and treatment.

To date, a variety of strategies have been applied,

mostly in Western Europe, to minimise the harms

associated with ecstasy intake. These have included

the provision of adequate information and education

about health effects; tips for safer ecstasy use and/

or on-site pill testing (Fromberg 1990; Benschop,

Rabes & Korf 2002; Weir 2000). In the following

section, a brief description of the main available

strategies is provided.

The educational component

The use of educational strategies to reduce harm

is vital. By the provision of factual and accurate

information to ecstasy users and potential users,

the dual aims of prevention and harm reduction

can be achieved. For instance, the educational

component could highlight the possibility that

ecstasy purchased may actually contain other, more

dangerous substances. This, in conjunction with

other strategies (see Table 2), will enable users to

adopt a responsible and informed decision-making

process (Fromberg 1990). The evaluation of the

“London Dance Safety” campaign found that the

target audience (ecstasy users), expressed positive

opinions about the philosophy behind the campaign

(harm reduction), and were impressed by the quality

13

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