In 1990, Liverpool, England hosted the 1st International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm. The city was one of the first to open needle exchanges and had attracted hundreds of visitors each year who wanted to learn about the Mersey Harm Reduction Model. The conference was a way of dealing with this interest and the volume of visitors and it was a huge success. Accordingly, the following year, the 2nd International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm took place in Barcelona and a movement soon developed around this conference – spreading the principles behind the harm reduction approach, sharing knowledge and experiences from around the world and promoting the growing scientific evidence that supported this approach.
In 1995, Ernie Drucker outlined an idea he had for an International Harm Reduction Association, which would enable knowledge sharing and communication all year round and between conferences. This new organisation would advocate around the world for sensible policies on drugs. The following year, the birth of IHRA was announced at the 7th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm in Hobart, Tasmania. The 10 founding members became the first Executive Committee and, under the leadership of Pat O’Hare, held their first meeting at the 8th International Conference on the Reduction of Drug Related Harm in Paris.
Initially, IHRA existed to support the development of harm reduction, enable knowledge exchange and provide a supportive environment for harm reduction workers. In time, however, the organisation (and the field in general) grew and the focus shifted to getting harm reduction on international political agendas. Over the next few years, harm reduction became more global, increasingly professional and backed by an ever-increasing scientific evidence-base.
IHRA has become the leading organisation promoting harm reduction approaches to all psychoactive substances on a global basis. The initial contributions from the 10 founder members must never be forgotten, however, as they were fundamental to the organisation’s creation.