Alex Wodak on Harm Reduction

Posted 18th July 2017 by Dave Cross
Alex Wodak is a retired physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. A staunch advocate of harm reduction, Wodak introduced the first needle exchange to Australia in 1986. He is now the President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and was President of the International Harm Reduction Association. He delivered a response to The Michael Russell Oration at the Global Forum for Nicotine (GFN).

Ethan Nadelmann gave a compelling speech for the Michael Russell Oration at GFN 2017. In it, he spoke about how harm reduction “is where public health and human rights intersect”. Alex Wodak is a grounded harm reductionist; a flick though his contributions for The Guardian confirms that fact articles like “Hysteria about drugs and harm minimisation. It's always the same old story.”

Alex Wodak began his response to The Michael Russell Oration: “In this field of harm reduction, which at the time blurred into drug law reform, there clearly has only ever been one capo di tutt'i capi, and that’s, of course, Ethan, the boss of the bosses.”

“I don’t know of any other drug that can claim, as tobacco can, to cause the death of two out of every three people who use that drug.”

Wodak also made reference to the similarities between standard drugs harm reduction and tobacco harm reduction, before going on to point out one telling and stark difference: “For me, the biggest difference though is the sheer impact that tobacco has on individuals and on communities. I don’t know of any other drug that can claim, as tobacco can, to cause the death of two out of every three people who use that drug. Even drugs like heroin and cocaine, which are regarded as the most dangerous of the illicit drugs, can’t rival that kind of figure.”

Cuts Ice

One billion people globally smoke cigarettes each day, and the world faces an estimated one billion tobacco-related deaths in the next hundred years. Against this stark backdrop, Wodak adds: “Harms from tobacco are greater than the combined harm from alcohol, and prescription drugs and illicit drugs, in terms of death, disease and economic cost – there’s no contest.”

“Harms from tobacco are greater than the combined harm from alcohol, and prescription drugs and illicit drugs.”

Calling Nadelmann’s speech “wonderful”, Alex Wodak hopes that the tobacco-harm reduction community learns something from the mistakes that the drug harm reduction activists made. More than that, he also hopes that those still campaigning for drug law reform can piggyback off the future successes of shifting attitudes to vaping.

Alex Wodak’s head - https://twitter.com/AlexWodak

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 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker
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