Registered nurses (RN), regardless of where they work, frequently care for people experiencing the impacts of substance use, including illegal substance use. Nursing care in this context can raise questions and issues for RNs and can have an impact on the care itself. “Harm reduction” is a public health response that seeks to reduce the harms of illegal drugs – but it is only a partial approach to addressing the health inequities associated with illegal drug use.
Harm Reduction and Currently Illegal Drugs: Implications for Nursing Policy, Practice, Education and Research is a discussion paper prepared by the Canadian Nurses Association that presents evidence on harm reduction strategies and benefits to public health and safety.
The paper reviews policy at all levels that highlight tensions between public health and prohibitionist approaches to illegal drug use – tensions in which RNs may be caught between evidence, ethics and policy. It also covers legal and ethical perspectives on the distribution of harm reduction supplies, supervised injection and nursing care to people who use illegal drugs.
The evidence in this paper is meant to inform discussions about policies, practices and standards to improve the delivery of health care, particularly to those involved with substance use.