Harm reduction and the ethics of drug use in the global south

M. Pereira1, J. Scott2

School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology m.pereira@qut.edu.au
School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology j31.scott@qut.edu.au

In the past decade or so there has been a proliferation of technologies and digital devices for monitoring, managing and tracking people’s activities, bodies and behaviours. These range from voluntarily collecting information on oneself to imposing self-tracking devices upon individuals for surveillance or to monitor compliance. This paper investigates these self-governance technologies in the context of contemporary drug practices that align with civic expectations of taking responsibility for managing and governing one’s drug use according to an ethos of harm reduction. Using qualitative interview data from young people who use illicit drugs in Brisbane, this paper provides insights into the management of illicit drug use. Study participants reported that they self-governed their drug use through a variety of technologies that are embedded in public health regimes and criminal justice interventions, with the objective of reducing drug related harm.  It is argued that these are ethical practices of the self by which those who use drugs reconstruct their subjectivity in line with broader governmental goals of self-empowerment and participatory citizenship. The study findings are explored in broader historical contexts and the rapid proliferation of innovative digital technologies that enable individuals to manage their own drug use in ways that minimise drug-related harm. We expand our findings to a discussion of how these technologies might interact with public health and criminal justice policies in the global south.


Dr Margaret Pereira has a PhD in criminology from Queensland University of Technology where she currently works as a Research Associate. She has also worked as a lecturer at Charles Sturt University and the University of New England. Her research interests are in illicit drug use including the interaction of drug practices with law and policy, and gender and crime.