Drugs and Addiction: A Harm Reduction Look and a Perspective on Brazil

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Thiago Gurgel Regis and Ms. Liliany Mirelly Bezerra Alves, two second-year medical students at the State University of Rio Grande do Norte (UERN), in Mossoró, Brazl. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), addiction to licit and illicit drugs is a public health problem of an international order that widely affects nations and affects political, socioeconomic and cultural values. Although addiction is seen as a disease that can be treated like any other in medicine, several social, psychological and physiological issues involve the user from its first use. Consequently, this places the subject in a subordination full of physical and psychological damage, which places them in a context of loss, in which there is no health, quality of life or healthy social relationships around them. Therefore, it is necessary that this situation be treated simultaneously as a chronic disease and as a social problem.

Excessive drug consumption acts on the brain by altering its reward system which, instead of being activated through the adaptive behaviors involved in the production of each person’s memories, is activated directly by the consumption of a specific substance. Because it is a very complex disease, in which not only organic causes are present, but also family, psychic and emotional factors, multidisciplinary approaches are necessary. In Brazil, for example, there are assistance programs such as the Psychosocial Care Center for Alcohol and Drugs (CAPS AD), where the user has the opportunity to be assisted by psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatrists in an intersectoral way. Thus, the subject not only treats the addiction, but also all the social and psychological causes that may have contributed to the worsening of this reality.

Furthermore, in the practice of harm reduction, the singularity of the subject is a pillar and many programs work from the perspective of ethical reason, human rights and health promotion, whose services are offered not only to the individual and family, but assume a community dimension given that that the autonomy of social actors in their quality of life and health, aiming at autonomy is better, has more effect than the medicalization of care.

Thus, harm reduction has become a strategy to be adopted. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, harm reduction strategies are a set of policies and programs that aim to mitigate the negative consequences of drug use by eliminating potential dangers to the health of the user, family and community. This reduction consists of preventive actions aimed at educating users and non-users, seeking to deal with information about using and not using. From this perspective, harm reduction is shown to be less costly and, above all, more efficient compared to traditional approaches, hence its growing international reach.


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About the authors

Thiago Gurgel Regis and Liliany Mirelly Bezerra Alves are second-year medical students at the State University of Rio Grande do Norte (UERN), in Mossoró. They are local coordinators of the Local Council of the International Federation of Medical Student Associations (IFMSA), directors of the Academic League of Applied Human Anatomy (LAANA) and participate in extension projects related to public health. Both believe that scientific and educational protagonism are the key to change and want to contribute to it.

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