Drug Policy

Andrew Tatarsky and Maia Szalavitz: How 'Harm Reduction' Is Transforming Drug Policy

As the drug war retreats, individualist approaches to substance use and abuse will make us all better off.


With more states and localities legalizing what the government still calls "illicit" drugs, how should we rethink criminal penalties and treatment for people with substance abuse problems? What policy and cultural frameworks will allow all of us to make better use decisions, reduce harm to ourselves and others, and make sure people who need help can get it?

At the latest Reason Speakeasy—a monthly live event in New York City with outspoken defenders of free speech and heterodox thinking—Nick Gillespie talked with Andrew Tatarsky, the founder of the Center for Optimal Living and the author of Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems, and Maia Szalavitz, the author of Undoing Drugs: How Harm Reduction Is Changing the Future of Drugs and Addiction [Right?] and Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.

Tatarsky is widely recognized as one of the trailblazing pioneers behind the "harm reduction" movement, which seeks to minimize negative consequences of drug use rather than eradicate it. Szalavitz's work (including her articles for Reason) has long explored the role of agency and compassion in understanding and treating addictive and self-destructive behavior, and she writes with the authority of a former heroin user.