MBL goes back 32 years in the debate on harm reduction

On September 28, 2020, during the councilor campaign in São Paulo, then-candidate Rubinho Nunes (PSL), coordinator of the Free Brazil Movement – who was eventually elected to the position, announced that he would sue Craco Resiste, a collective that assists the population circulating in the region of Cracolândia, for distributing syringes and pipes to drug users.

The threat occurred in a typical campaign video in which Nunes appears walking around Cracolândia, with sad music in the background. In the images, he interviews crack users who confirm having received inputs from Craco Resiste. “The NGO distributes pipes and syringes to drug users for them to use. Under the argument of defending them, they do exactly the opposite, they keep these people hostage to criminality”, said Nunes.

The Civil Police accepted the accusation and the group became the target of an inquiry for apology for the use of drugs. The case is in the State Narcotics Division, according to the São Paulo State Secretariat for Public Security.

According to É de Lei Coexistence Center, an organization that since 1998 has been working to promote harm reduction in the Cracolândia region, this practice consists of “an approach to the phenomenon of drugs that aims to minimize social and health harm associated with substance use psychoactive.”

In general terms, it means that when delivering a new syringe to the drug user, it prevents him from infecting himself with other diseases, since he will not need to share the input with other people.

The movement confirms that it favors the donation of syringes and pipes to users as a way of harm reduction. “I feel like I went back 20 years in time, I have to keep defending something that was already outdated. We don’t distribute because in fact we don’t have money, we could distribute.”


Nunes’ denunciation reveals the lack of knowledge of the São Paulo councilor on the matter and frightened experts heard by the Brazil in fact. “It amazes me a lot. I faced this problem in 1991, because I went to distribute syringes and the police came to intimidate me. Then, I explained to them, in 1991, that this program was new in Brazil. But that this was already customary in the rest of the world. In 1991, it was already a laughing matter. Thirty years later, I come across this story. How absurd,” says, laughing, psychiatrist Dartiu Xavier, one of the country’s leading experts on psychedelics and a former consultant to the Ministry of Justice’s National Drug Secretariat.

Psychologist Maria Angélica Comis, who coordinates the É de Lei Coexistence Center, an organization that has been working since 1998 to promote harm reduction in the Cracolândia region, explained that the donation of syringes and pipes is even provided for by law.

“We understand that the distribution of inputs should never be questioned, as it is a public policy, considering that it is provided for in the Ministry of Health’s Decree 1028/2005. State Law 9758/1997 also discusses the delivery of inputs in the state of São Paulo. Paulo”, points out Comis, who was vice-president of the São Paulo City Council for Drug and Alcohol Policy between 2017 and 2019.

Escobar says he was startled when he learned of the inquiry. “It scares me, a councilor proposing to enter this debate without knowledge. Little is said about public policy at the moment, it’s about moralism. It’s the image of that pocketnarism that was invented, even by Doria, it’s the criminalization of a social movement for doing something that is in the law that must be done”, he concludes.


32 years ago, in 1989, Brazil had its first experience with harm reduction. In Santos, on the coast of São Paulo, the city government distributed syringes to injecting drug users to avoid sharing the input.

Since then, there have been several actions by the government to promote and expand harm reduction policies. Ordinance 1028, of July 2005, provides for the distribution of supplies to drug users. In its article 2, the norm defines the guidelines for the State’s action.

“Defining that the reduction of social and health harm, resulting from the use of products, substances or drugs that cause dependence, is developed through health actions aimed at users or dependents who cannot, cannot, or do not want to interrupt said use, with the aim of reducing the associated risks without necessarily intervening in the supply or consumption.”

At the state level, the government of São Paulo, then headed by toucan Mário Covas, created Law 9758, on September 17, 1997. In it, it authorizes the distribution of inputs throughout the state. “The State Department of Health is authorized to purchase and distribute disposable syringes to intravenous drug users, with the objective of reducing the transmission of the AIDS virus by blood in São Paulo.”

Seven months later, on March 13, 1998, decree nº 42.927 was published, also signed by Mário Covas. In its first article, the legislation determines: “The Department of Health is authorized to acquire and distribute disposable syringes to injecting drug users, pursuant to article 12 of Law No. 9,758, of September 17, 1997, with the purpose of to prevent, control and reduce the transmission of the AIDS virus.”

The world’s first harm reduction experiment is on the verge of completing a century. In 1926, in England, doctors started to prescribe opiates, a drug obtained from opium, to dependents of this same drug, in lower dosages, for the control of the patient. The measure was adopted after the publication of the Rolleston Report, which provided for a combination of norms determined by an inter-ministerial team chaired by Humprey Rolleston, the British Health Minister.


In April of this year, Craco Resiste released the dossier “It’s not a confrontation, it’s a massacre”. It contained images of agents of the Metropolitan Civil Guard (GCM) and the São Paulo State Military Police committing abuses against the population living in the Cracolândia region.

Read More: Hidden cameras in Cracolândia catch three months of police violence

The images were captured by cameras hidden by the movement in December 2020, in the region of Cracolândia. The videos show military police and municipal guards advancing on drug users at different times and dropping bombs. According to Craco Resiste, these operations are common in the region, without prior notice from the government.

“We do not believe it is a coincidence that the Craco Resiste militants are summoned by the police after the dossier is released”, explains the movement in a statement. “To disguise this lack of results, police structures are being used in an attempt to silence the voices that point to these problems. They won’t make it. We will continue with the complaints and demanding policies that welcome people, as has been done in various parts of the world”, concludes the collective.

Right target

Besides Rubinho Nunes, from MBL, another character on the right took aim at Cracolândia. On August 7, state deputy Janaína Paschoal (PSL-SP) attacked Father Julio Lancelloti for distributing meals to drug users who circulate in the region, saying that this practice “only helps crime”.

Three days later, on August 10, he again criticized the priest. “The citizen has 5 reais in his pocket. It is chemical dependent. He lives in the place where the drug is sold. If you don’t even need to spend 2 reais on lunch, how much will he use on drugs? Is it charity to feed him there? I understand not! I respect those who think differently, I just don’t understand the reaction.”

the promise, councilor

At the end of the campaign video, in which he announces that he will sue Craco Resiste, Nunes says. “It is not the State’s duty to provide security for users. It is not the State’s duty to provide security for traffickers. It is the State’s duty to collect these people and return them to the family.”

After eight months in office, Rubinho Nunes presented 32 Bills of Law. None of the articles deals with Cracolândia or proposes alternatives for the region or drug users.

O Brazil in fact contacted the MBL coordinator’s office and asked three questions: “Does the councilor have evidence that Craco Resiste distributed syringes and pipes in the region of Cracolândia?”; “What does the councilor think about the harm reduction policy?”; and “What project do you have for the Cracolândia region? After being elected, did you present any solution for the region?”

Until the closing of this article, councilor Rubinho Nunes had not answered the article’s doubts. If you do, this text will be updated.

Edition: Vivian Virissimo

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