Do No Harm: The Evolution of Harm Reduction in Nightlife Culture


Consumption is a fundamental aspect of nightlife culture. Food and entertainment are two of the main lures that attract patrons into bars and clubs, but the use of alcohol and other drugs plays a role as well. The use of any intoxicant carries risk of overconsumption and responsible venue owners, city planners and public health departments work together to reduce that harm. 

However, with the case of illegal drugs, venue owners are often unable to address these harms because they are afraid to address the consumption itself.  Nightlife regulatory policies, reflective of this country’s prohibition-based War on Drugs policies, make it impossible to admit drug use occurs in nightlife venues without risk of police scrutiny, fines or closure. In this case, it is not just the over consumption of illegal drugs but the policies themselves that cause harm.   

The struggle to reduce the harms of drug use as well as ineffective drug policies is being led by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Over the years, DPA has worked on the legislative and policy level to develop alternatives to destructive drug war policies. By working with high profile supporters like Russell Simmons, Arianna Huffington and Sting and creating programs that are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, DPA has promoted change on local, state and national levels. Thanks to the work of advocates at DPA like Stefanie Jones, nightlife is becoming the next arena for education and change with three upcoming events:

1)    Ms. Jones and Dr. Brenda Miller will be conducting a webinar with the Responsible Hospitality Institute at 4:00 pm on Tuesday, March 26th to discuss various aspects of harm reduction in nightlife including patron education and amnesty bin programs that allow patrons to surrender illegal substances when discovered in a search instead of being arrested.  The goal of the webinar is to foster a less antagonistic relationship between patrons, police and club owners in relation to alcohol and other drug use.

2)    DPA, in cooperation with the Columbia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy will be hosting a free panel discussion at 7:00 pm on Wednesday, March 27th entitled The Truth About Molly that aims to dispel the mythology about a drug that is becoming more popular in urban culture and entertainment.

3)    Finally, DPA is working with organizations like Dance Safe and the San Francisco Entertainment Commission to produce a three day conference called Club Health San Francisco 2013 from May 28-30. The Club Health conference will bring together experts from around the world to discuss increasing harm reduction, decreasing violence and improving the safety of nightlife culture across the board.

The relationship between alcohol and other drug consumption and nightlife culture is diverse and complicated. Each sub culture faces different challenges associated with the different substances found in each setting. It will take a substantial amount of effort and political will to alter the impact of over consumption and misguided policies, but the events that DPA is hosting and the focus of people like Ms. Jones builds a solid foundation for expanding harm reduction practices and bringing the potential for policy change to nightlife culture.