INTRODUCTION AND AIMS: This paper reports on the public health intervention of harm reduction to address drug use issues in the Asia-Pacific region. DESIGN AND METHODS: It is based on the report ‘Situational analysis of illicit drug issues and responses in Asia and the Pacific’, commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs Asia Pacific Drug Issues Committee. A comprehensive desk-based review based on published and unpublished literature and key informant data. RESULTS: Drug use in the Asia–Pacific region is widespread, resulting in serious adverse health consequences. Needle and syringe programmes are found in some parts of Asia, but not in the six Pacific Island countries reviewed. Outreach and peer education programmes are implemented, but overall appear minor in size and scope. Substitution therapy programmes appear to be entering a new era of acceptance in some parts of Asia. Primary health care specifically for drug users overall is limited. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: Harm reduction programmes in the Asia–Pacific region are either small in scale or do not exist. Most programmes lack the technical capacity, human resources and a limited scope of operations to respond effectively to the needs of drug users. Governments in this region should be encouraged to endorse evidence-based harm reduction programmes.