Lasers, Robots & Harm Reduction

A recent posting by Julian Buchanan drew my attention to a new piece of technological gadgetry designed to make the detection of illicit drugs easier.  It got me musing about the nature of technological advances and innovation in the context of illicit drugs.

Peter Nowak a writer about technology asserts in his book ‘Sex, Bombs and Burgers’ that technological advancement has been driven by amongst other things war.  Is it possible then, that the ‘War on Drug’s is driving technological advancement in a similar fashion?

The same remote controlled drone technology that is used by the U.S. to take armed conflict to the doorsteps of people in Afghanistan and Pakistan is also being used to detect international drug traffickers.  Advances are being made in drug detection technology at a rapid rate, with both laser and robotic technology being developed to aid in drug detection.


What then are the drivers for technological advancement in Harm Reduction?

The short answer is that there are very few.  While theoretically I can make a bundle of cash developing technology for the military and then finding commercial applications for the same innovation, there are few parallels between military technology and harm reduction practice (automated vein seeking sterile injecting equipment anyone?). It is just because of this lack of drivers that I assert we need to support the innovators who go out on a limb to develop technological applications that assist in reducing drug related harms, usually with very little support of a financial nature.

The incredible work undertaken by U-Turn in developing a smartphone application to address opiate overdose is a great example of dedicated harm reductionists developing technological innovation to meet the needs of drug users.  On the surface there are no financial drivers that have supported this work (It’s highly unlikely these guys will be able to retire on the market strength of this app), instead it has been the humanitarian drive that has provided the momentum for the development of this technology.  With no funding to support development of the smartphone app, U-Turn have been forced to charge for the application rather than make it freely available.  Humanitarianism it appears does not pay the development bills.  U-Turn are currently seeking sponsors to enable them to make the app freely available.  You can contact them at

If you know of other great technological innovations in harm reduction, I would love to hear about them.

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