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Living the great ‘Edinburgh AIDS panic’ of ’85.

Part 2 of David Graham Scott’s harrowing portrayal of

a junkie’s life on the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland’s

capital city and in 1985, known as the ‘AIDS CAPITAL OF

EUROPE’.

Written by David Graham Scott   (pic above – back in the day…)

(part one is the blog below this)

The only reason people went to ‘The City Hospital for Infectious Diseases’ was essentially for their methadone and free needles which at the time were very hard to come by. It was the carrot they dangled in front of us in order to encourage all the city’s junkies to attend, and thereby get tested for HIV/AIDS.

 

So data could get collected, clumsy attempts at healthcare would be given to all those with a positive result, and then we would all leave clutching leaflets about safer injecting together with possibly the first needle and syringe packs in Scotland.

This methadone and HIV testing clinic was really isolated from the main hub of Edinburgh city and was surrounded by vast woodlands.

1985; David in Edinburgh, in the flat arond the corner from the cop shop.

To get there we would have to board a public bus that took us towards the hospital which we shared with housewives heading back to their genteel homes in the wealthy southern suburbs of Edinburgh.  Each time they disembarked they would glance back at those of us left on the bus; the dregs of humanity, and everyone knew exactly where we were going; The Infectious Diseases Clinic at The City Hospital.

As the bus drove us further down the narrow meandering roads towards the clinic itself, it only seemed to  exacerbate our sense of alienation and fear, heading towards ‘that clinic’.

The Fear

There was an incredibly deep climate of fear at this time which is hard to fully explain today. It was 1985, the height of the HIV/AIDS ‘panic’.  People may remember the time, and God knows we all remember it was confusing and frightening enough, but actually  living within it, being terrorised by the label AIDS JUNKIE in your own community, there really are few words to describe what living through that time was like.

There were two ostracised communities (gay men and IV drug users) and sadly in those days neither group managed to find common ground with the other, such was the fear , ignorance and stigma from all those involved. People stuck tightly to what they knew.

A Slow Death by Newsnight

1985: Edinburgh

By early 1986, my girlfriend and I were asked if we wanted to appear on Newsnight to talk about being an injecting drug user in Edinburgh. Newsnight is the well respected current affairs programme which was (and still is) broadcast across the UK. The journalists involved offered us money, a paltry (but useful) £50 each to basically sell our souls to the ignorant masses. To be fair, the money wasn’t the reason we did it, it merely sealed the deal, both of us being broke and on heroin.

Naturally, we got totally stitched up. They edited the show to make us look irresponsible as they could. The idea was not to expose our status either way, but just to talk about the reality of life for drug users confronting the spectre of HIV/AIDS in Edinburgh.

However, the whole thing rapidly turned into a nightmare that had immense repercussions for us for months and years to come.

My girlfriend’s ex boyfriend was also appearing on the show, claiming to be the man who brought ‘AIDS’ to Scotland from Canada. He had kind of given up on himself I think, and although a very talented guitarist and session musician known by many major bands of the time, I think he ultimately felt jealous and lonely. It felt like his exposure on Newsnight was designed to draw my girlfriend and I into his own private hell. He knew he was dying…

We thought we were just trying to explain to viewers what was going on in Edinburgh among drug users, however pointed questioning from the journalist, who, looked from their body language to be quite fearful and disgusted by these three Scottish junkies sitting before them, soon had us saying things we didn’t set out to say.

True to the Style of Jeremy Kyle…*

My girlfriend soon began to respond to her ex boyfriend’s issues  goaded by the journalist, which meant she began feeling the need to explain her own positive status, something neither of us anticipated. I was negative but it didn’t matter. We had ‘AIDS by default’ of being junkies.

Today, I am a documentary filmmaker and as such, as I sit here and reflect back as I have done many times over the years, I know we were manipulated in an irresponsible, careless and insidious manner. Christ we were only 20 and 22 years old!

As for repercussions, they were horrific. We were both abused and spat at in the street regularly. The local police always gave us a hard time and because we lived around the corner from the local police station, regularly we would get a battering ram smashing through our door and our flat turned upside down for no reason. We were on prescription methadone and they never found anything. It was shameful.

David: Outside the doctors surgery, 1987, Edinburgh

David: Outside the doctors surgery, 1987, Edinburgh

Shameful!

 

It was a different era. We were vilified by the public. Even though I didn’t have HIV, I was positive just by association. When I went back to my family’s home in the highlands I was quickly approached by the local environmental health officer and rudely advised not to have sex with any women in town and it would be a good idea if I left town as soon as possible.

Even years later I was arrested on a trumped up charge when i returned home again, kept in jail overnight and later told that the cell was literally fumigated after I left. Completely unbelievable.

I haven’t put in to this story some of the worst things that happened to us because it is just to difficult to talk about and I don’t want to drag things up especially for my ex girlfriend who is happily still well and is really getting on with her life.

I think now in my life as a documentary film maker I continue to try and write the wrongs of that kind of shoddy, sensationalist journalism by trying to be as sensitive as I can and letting the person feel comfortable enough to talk freely but never to feel that false sense of security that people can do when they let their guard down. It is a big responsibility and I know personally how it feels to be completely exploited and to suffer the repercussions when one goes back into their community.

It was a terrible time for so many of us back then. So many deaths, so much fear, so much gossip,  people drowning others to save themselves, all pressured by an insane media appetite for sensationalist stories that just ruined people’s lives and spread fear and hate like poison. We cannot forget these days. We can never forget these days. We must all do whatever we can to stop the kind of scapegoating society is so apt to do when it is frightened by some unknown quantity. At the end of each day, it is always about people’s lives.

DGS

David today winning an award for Iboga Nights, his powerful film following people struggling to get off heroin using the iboga root.

Iboga Nights trailer from John Archer on Vimeo.

 

HIV/AIDS in 1985; No Really, We Will Never Forget…

It was 1988, in Wick, a small highland town in the far north of Scotland. My wife’s ex boyfriend had been diagnosed as being HIV positive. We knew we had to get tested. My wife was from the infamous period in Edinburgh period of shooting gallery’s where it was so hard to find works (syringes) that people would stand in a line and the dealer would cook up the hits using te same syringe on everyone.

There was a prototype of a needle exchange that had been running from an area called the Grassmarket in Edinburgh but the police were routinely arresting people who visited it. The police eventually closed it down in the early 1980’s. The cops were very hard on junkies who were injectors.

It was a strange time where you could be busted for having traces of gear or even a needle packet on your person. But the drug that was the real gold dust for the using community was Diconol which were bright pink tablets (I think that were made by Roche -dipionone hydrochloride).

Opus Morphia from David Graham Scott on Vimeo.

This film was made by David around the time (1985). Incredibly, he did not go to film school.

It was a really strong opiate analgesic, a mixture of Cyclomorph and a sort of anti-emetic) and the rush was the reason people bought it. It was like a religious experience, you generally felt you were in the company of God for a few moments,  it was a truly beautiful sensation, the best I have ever had in my life.

So anyway, my girlfriend and I went to get tested. I wasn’t really bothered about it, I never even thought I’d be positive, and neither did my girlfriend.

Three weeks later the results were in and it was my girl that got the bad news. She was positive and  I wasn’t. I said I would stick behind her no matter what happened; and typical of her (remains anonymous), she took it all in her stride. God only knows how, as things would get a lot, lot worse.

I would go with her to the HIV clinic and all the positive people had to sit along a wall. There was those old-fashioned weighing scales measuring height and weight, and without any privacy whatsoever, they would announce your weight, like at school, and because everyone always went there  coz they had to for their methadone (there was almost nothing on offer then), it was like some cattle market.

Gallows humour would run loose among the patients, as is the Scottish way, topped off with small junkie self platitudes such as ‘thank fuck I ain’t as bad as him’ .  Comments bounced around the echoing hospital hallways like” Oh, he is going down….61Kilograms today laddy, that’s quite a drop to tell ya ma” or “Oh,lookee there, she has that whatsimacallit, the scabby things, she must be getting AIDS nurse, right or no? “, and on and on it went. People just wasted away in front of you, on parade for all of us to see.

 

Episode 2 will tell you more from David of the shameful story of Edinburgh and HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s and should be about a week behind this.  

HOWEVER!!!

You can see more about David Graham Scott’s exemplary career in filmmaking, covering various issues but covering brilliantly his experiences as a junkie, or indeed battling ‘junkdom’.

In particular the famous ‘Detox or Die (his personal experience of undergoing an Ibogaine detox on film a decade ago (available to view today free online and on DGS’s Vimeo channel to this blog on INPUD’s webpage. This just released film (which you can read about on the link provided) called Iboga Nights. It is the culmination of three long years of in-depth research into the drug Iboga and the lives and detoxes of the accompanying clutch of courageous, wonderful characters involved in the film, the much called for sequel Iboga Nights (google it but we will review it shortly) was a big success on the documentary film circuit recently winning much deserved awards and acclaim.  BP will cover this next in more detail. If this has whetted your appetite, look for David Graham Scott on Facebook and speak to him directly! Or you will find much covering both films and more by googling it.

 

Feeling a bit defeated?? Find yourself slowly crushed by the weight of a loved one’s ignorant viewpoints on your drug use?

Well Ditch it Brothers and Sisters!

Redaktionens bild

The world-class Swedish Drug Users Union

Last year, just like every year on the 1st of November, that very special day in the drug users own calendar comes alive! Only last year, guess who should write one of the most moving, powerful and courageous testimonies of our times – but the Swedish Drug Users Union!

This readers, is no great shock as this world-class union consisting of 13 separate chapters including Stockholm, Malmo etc is consistently putting out some of the most innovative and high quality peer resources available, certainly within Europe, and is a 1st class example of just what your user group can do both inside and outside government. Remember, Sweden may appear liberal but it is in fact very conservative towards drug users and just demanding a globally approved and evidenced based needle exchange for the inner city, has taken years and years of struggle by the union (so they have opened it themselves sans local permission in order to save lives. Now that’s action!).

Along with the impressive journey travelled over (at least) the last decade pushed onwards by some of their leading Union members (a big shout out to the brilliant founder Berne and his team at the lead union of Sweden, and Kikki and her close team running the highly visible and hardworking Stockholm branch.

But getting to the fabulous point – I discovered on the Swedish Users Union Website, a statement to really mark and celebrate OUR DAY – the 1st of November every year;

It is, dear readers, a day to proclaim and reclaim the precious rights to our own bodies and what goes in them, our independence regarding our alternative lifestyle choices, to relish and delight in our chemical search for enlightenment; and to have fun, be loud and proud and educate the consistently new ignorant people who read the tabloids and watch the chat shows to understand their news..

Reader’z, I implore you to read out and even copy a version of this truly excellent statement of our rights and our scapegoated position in English, be polite and ask SDDU if you wish to reprint any of it (credited of course) on your groups website and goddammit, pin it up in your local methadone clinic, prison or rehab on 1st November!

 

Big thank you to Theo Van Dam and the Netherland’s LSD for starting our special global day.

INPUD Statement for International Drug Users’

Day, 1st November 2013

AvRedaktionen (SBFRiks) den 02 nov 2013 23:43 | 0kommentarer

The international drug users’ movement welcomes the introduction over recent years of a human rights discourse into discussions about drug law reform, harm reduction and public health, and the clear delineation of the systemic relations between global punitive prohibition and the grotesque violations of the rights of people who use drugs.

However, on this, International Drug Users’ Day, the International Network of People who Use Drugs wants to push this discourse one step further and affirm the positive right of people to use the drugs of their choice without the undue interference of police, judicial, and medical authorities. This right is implied most clearly by those to privacy, bodily integrity, and the right not to be discriminated against.

For too long, human rights discourse has largely ignored this thorny issue, and has focused to great effect on the egregious human rights violations rained down upon people simply on the basis that they choose to use drugs whose usage is deemed unacceptable subsequent to the passage of the three global conventions that together comprise global prohibition.

The range of such abuses is vast, systemic and grotesque, and includes abrogations of the right to vote, of the right to liberty, to privacy, to physical and mental integrity, to freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, to freedom from involuntary medical procedures, to be free from discrimination, and to the highest attainable standard of health. Repressive drug laws also jeopardise the right to safety by denying people access to drugs of known quality, quantity, and purity, thus exposing us to the risk of overdose, poisoning and infection, as well as to sterile means of administering injectable drugs.

These systemic rights abuses driven by a globally repressive legal environment of varying degrees of viciousness has included torture, forced treatment, police shakedowns and violence, arbitrary mass incarceration and detention, the denial of access to medical services (most notably denial of the right to access treatment for HCV and HIV), and the denial of access to harm reduction services. Harsh drug laws jeopardise the right to family life by denying drug using parents access to their children, and in some countries people, especially women, known to be users of illegal drugs have been forcefully sterilised. These violations driven by a combination of puritanical moralism, racism, sexism, and the biopolitical imperative of governments to exert control over, and discipline, the bodies of their citizens, has created a world in which people who use, and in particular who inject, drugs are massively, disproportionately affected by blood borne viruses, most notably HIV and HCV. These violations are not glitches in the system of drug control, nor the actions of a few ‘rogue’ enforcement agents, rather they are constitutive of, and directly entailed by, prohibition.

People who use currently illegal drugs have been labelled immoral, criminal, and sick, often a combination of all three at the same time. We have been moralised over, criminalised and pathologised. On this International Drug Users’ Day, we say enough. On this International Drug Users’ Day we assert the right to bodily integrity, and to privacy, we reclaim control over our bodies and minds and assert the right of consenting adults to use whatever drugs they choose, whether it be for pleasure, to self-medicate, to enhance performance, to alter consciousness  or to provide some succour and relief from hard lives, we insist that as adults that right is ours. We defend the right of adults to use their drugs of choice in their homes without causing harm or nuisance to others, and to carry them in public without fear of police harassment, abuse and intimidation.

The use of consciousness altering drugs is an integral part of the human experience, common to all cultures throughout history, as such drug use is neither bad, mad, nor sick, it should not, and need not, be a crime. The use of currently illegal drugs is not a sign of moral depravity, a character fault, a marker of criminal tendencies, or of pathology, it is no more and no less than one aspect of what it is to be human, a part of the diversity of human experience. Doug Husak, one of the few academics to have seriously looked at this issue concludes in his book Drugs and Rights that ” the arguments in favour of believing that adults have a moral right to use drugs recreationally are more persuasive than the arguments on the other side” he continues that those of us who reject the war on drugs, which is in reality a war on people who use drugs, “should be described as endorsing a pro-choice position on recreational drug use”.

To assert and defend this implied right to use drugs INPUD will be launching a ‘Charter of the Rights of People who Use Drugs’ laying out the basic rights to which we, like all other members of the human family are entitled. This charter will be prefaced by a detailed exposition of the multiple areas of life in which the rights of people who use drugs are violated, simply on the basis of what drugs we choose to use.

Drug use = my choice!

Abstinence = your choice.

Prohibition = no choice!

- – – – -

More information: Protecting rights to ensure health: International Drug Users Day 2013.

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Text uppdaterad: 2013-11-03 21:58
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Oh God, My Anxiety’s Back!

Hey readers,

I just saw this piece on a really fab website/blog created it seems to people who are getting out there and doing it for themselves  -kinda like us with our drug thing, they push onward and enlighten others around mental health issues. Many of us in the drug using world are intimate friends with ‘the shrink’, and many of us have suffered from being pushed backwards and forwards from the drug clinic to the psych ward and back again…‘No! You just use too many drugs. Stop them and then we can talk!’…Actually, Ill just piss off now then instead of stroking your ego or being mummified under your useless labels…

Their fabulous sites link…http://slamtwigops.wordpress.com/category/resources/.

follow pic to a terrific blog where this artwork lives as does an anxious person who can help us laugh at ourselves a bit more...

follow pic to a terrific blog where this artwork lives as does an anxious person who can help us laugh at ourselves a bit more….

In any case, if one hasn’t got a mental health thing going on that is truly making your using life difficult, then you will still understand the dreaded anxiety and panic you can get used to feeling when our life has taken a turn for the worse. So much of the time anxiety bubbles just under the surface creating obstacles for us and preventing us from doing something -it can really be crippling and often we don’t even really know it is there. We think it is just us being crap. Its the drugs. Im procrastinating again….Anxiety appears to us in so many forms, I think it is worth having a wee read of this just to see if it feels like it could be helpful. Just the mere fact of beginning to ‘understand’ what is happening to us, is a huge weight lifted of our shoulders. If we understand how our mind structures itself, we can actually liberate ourselves by re-wiring a bit here and there! Its what therapy is basically. We can help ourselves as well you know!

 

How to Train Your Brain to Alleviate Anxiety

Our thoughts affect our brains. More specifically, “… what you pay attention to, what you think and feel and want, and how you work with your reactions to things sculpt your brain in multiple ways,” according to neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, Ph.D, in his newest book Just One Thing: Developing A Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. In other words, how you use your mind can change your brain.

According to Canadian scientist Donald Hebb, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” If your thoughts focus on worrying and self-criticism, you’ll develop neural structures of anxiety and a negative sense of self, says Hanson.

For instance, individuals who are constantly stressed (such as acute or traumatic stress) release cortisol, which in another article Hanson says eats away at the memory-focused hippocampus. People with a history of stress have lost up to 25 percent of the volume of their hippocampus and have more difficulty forming new memories.

The opposite also is true. Engaging in relaxing activities regularly can wire your brain for calm. Research has shown that people who routinely relax have “improved expression of genes that calm down stress reactions, making them more resilient,” Hanson writes.

Also, over time, people who engage in mindfulness meditation develop thicker layers of neurons in the attention-focused parts of the prefrontal cortex and in the insula, an area that’s triggered when we tune into our feelings and bodies.

Other research has shown that being mindful boosts activation of the left prefrontal cortex, which suppresses negative emotions, and minimizes the activation of the amygdala, which Hanson refers to as the “alarm bell of the brain.”

Hanson’s book gives readers a variety of exercises to cultivate calm and self-confidence and to enjoy life. Here are three anxiety-alleviating practices to try.

1. “Notice you’re all right right now.” For many of us sitting still is a joke — as in, it’s impossible. According to Hanson, “To keep our ancestors alive, the brain evolved an ongoing internal trickle of unease. This little whisper of worry keeps you scanning your inner and outer world for signs of trouble.”

Being on high alert is adaptive. It’s meant to protect us. But this isn’t so helpful when we’re trying to soothe our stress and keep calm. Some of us — me included — even worry that if we relax for a few minutes, something bad will happen. (Of course, this isn’t true.)

Hanson encourages readers to focus on the present and to realize that right now in this moment, you’re probably OK. He says that focusing on the future forces us to worry and focusing on the past leads to regret. Whatever activity you’re engaged in, whether it’s driving, cooking dinner or replying to email, Hanson suggests saying, “I’m all right right now.”

Of course, there will be moments when you won’t be all right. In these times, Hanson suggests that after you ride out the storm, “… as soon as possible, notice that the core of your being is okay, like the quiet place fifty feet underwater, beneath a hurricane howling above the sea.”

2. “Feel safer.” “Evolution has given us an anxious brain,” Hanson writes. So, whether there’s a tiger in the bushes doesn’t matter, because staying away in both cases keeps us alive. But, again, this also keeps us hyper-focused on avoiding danger day to day. And depending on our temperaments and life experiences, we might be even more anxious.

Most people overestimate threats. This leads to excessive worrying, anxiety, stress-related aliments, less patience and generosity with others and a shorter fuse, according to Hanson.

Are you more guarded or anxious than you need to be? If so, Hanson suggests the following for feeling safer:

  • Think of how it feels to be with a person who cares about you and connect to those feelings and sensations.
  • Remember a time when you felt strong.
  • List some of the resources at your disposal to cope with life’s curveballs.
  • Take several long, deep breaths.
  • Become more in tune with what it feels like to feel safer. “Let those good feelings sink in, so you can remember them in your body and find your way back to them in the future.”

3. “Let go.” Letting go is hard. Even though clinging to clutter, regrets, resentment, unrealistic expectations or unfulfilling relationships is painful, we might be afraid that letting go makes us weak, shows we don’t care or lets someone off the hook. What holds you back in letting go?

Letting go is liberating. Hanson says that letting go might mean releasing pain or damaging thoughts or deeds or yielding instead of breaking. He offers a great analogy:

“When you let go, you’re like a supple and resilient willow tree that bends before the storm, still here in the morning — rather than a stiff oak that ends up broken and toppled over.”

Here are some of Hanson’s suggestions for letting go:

  • Be aware of how you let go naturally every day, whether it’s sending an email, taking out the trash, going from one thought or feeling to another or saying goodbye to a friend.
  • Let go of tension in your body. Take long and slow exhalations, and relax your shoulders, jaw and eyes.
  • Let go of things you don’t need or use.
  • Resolve to let go of a certain grudge or resentment. “This does not necessarily mean letting other people off the moral hook, just that you are letting yourself off the hotplate of staying upset about whatever happened,” Hanson writes. If you still feel hurt, he suggests recognizing your feelings, being kind to yourself and gently releasing them.
  • Let go of painful emotions. Hanson recommends several books on this topic: Focusing by Eugene Gendlin and What We May Beby Piero Ferrucci. In his book, Hanson summarizes his favorite methods: “relax your body;” “imagine that the feelings are flowing out of you like water’” express your feelings in a letter that you won’t send or vent aloud; talk to a good friend; and be open to positive feelings and let them replace the negative ones.

#RT via Bridget via http://psychcentral.com

Methamphetamine – A document well worth a read

Hi,

Many of you will recognise the writings of US psychologist Carl Hart, having had many interesting things to say about crack, and now methamphetamine. Yes there have been many books on the subject but this is different and you can read it all here right now! It is a fascinating read on meth, the facts and the hype. If the subject interests you, and I reckon it probably does, give it a read. Love to hear your comments.

Report cover

Text From Open Society Institute: The rise in methamphetamine use has provoked a barrage of misinformation and reckless policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences, increased penalties for minor offenders and major restrictions against certain medicines.

This new report, titled Methamphetamine: Fact vs. Fiction and Lessons from the Crack Hysteria, reveals the extreme stigmatization of users and dangerous policy responses that are reminiscent of the crack hysteria in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to grossly misguided laws that accelerated mass incarceration in the United States.

The report recommends that national and international policymakers review laws that harshly punish methamphetamine possession or use, invest in treatment rather than punishment, restudy the restriction of access to amphetamines for legitimate medical purposes, and stop supporting wasteful and ineffective campaigns of misinformation on methamphetamine use.

Go straight to the 36 page report here 

That Old Viennese Waltz Begins Again …It’s the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

It’s That Time Again – the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs .

This blog is from INPUD’s blog and was posted today both there and here on March 15, 2014 by 

Note: These views are my own as a drug activist and writer and do not reflect INPUD’s own thoughtful and positioned response to the events at the 2014 CND. For a direct response from INPUD’s Chief Executive Director Eliot Albers, see below.

The Start of the Dance

Wednesday 13th March, 2014 marked the start of the High-Level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 57th session at the UN headquarters in Vienna. But before we start chatting do let me say: For an interesting and worthwhile insight into the machinations of global drug policy, the CND is a good place to start and you can read more about the event at these chosen sites, to help you enjoy a more rounded news feast that will provide some relief for those suffering drug war stress ulcers.

Where to go to follow the low down on the high level sessions?

Start at the official UNODC’s CND page for your basic brief and structure of the weeks events at http://j.mp/N9oggo, and even check out some of the (permitted) real-time webcasts at    http://www.unodc.org/hlr/en/webcast.html where you can see representatives from civil society speak on drug issues as well as some of the world’s more knowledgeable and persuasive speakers – and as always some complete political muppets will get to have a big say (although this is always good for a chuckle) but remember that the CND operates behind closed doors on the whole so many of the more surreal muppet moments will be hidden from our view . Recover yourself with a breath of common sense at the http://cndblog.org where you will get the unofficial official low down on all the news and views from a harm reduction and drug law reformers standpoint (I could have just said common sense overview I suppose) and then you can vent your frustrated opinions by joining the conversation in real time via good ol’ Twitter ‪#‎CND2014‬. Add your two pence worth friends!

For an interesting update on the events, get your taster session here, written by yours truly!

A Vending Machine for Crack Pipes? Now that Rocks!

Well, I’ll be damned, harm reduction is getting down with drug users -how  fabulous when we find a glowing example of a perfectly useful, innovative and user friendly invention that actually makes it out of its’ idea stage, only to leap frog over the community hysterics into production and onto our streets; the streets of Vancouver in this case. A vending machine for crack pipes -selling the pipes that one may be constantly in need of (if one has a constant preoccupation with the white rocks, that is…) for just 25c.

OK, so as the VICE news item below says, the over-arching idea behind this was to prevent HIV or Hepatitis C transmission that people COULD be exposed too, when finding themselves sharing pipes and some bodily fluids from the associated burnt or cut thumbs and lips that can occur from heavy sessions on the pipe. But I notice at least one of the vending machines is located in a popular drop in service, which on its own provides an important moment for a user to touch base, be seen by peers and health professionals, add to an important data pool on drug usage, – and all at the same time as making a personal positive health choice and a chance to reduce harm. Nice one!

But what is really cool is that this is an evolution of the work our rather clever peers are doing in Vancouver, work started in the area by VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users),

Mariner James of the Portland Hotel Society with the machine.

Three Cheers for our Junkie Peers!

So three cheers to the continuation of user ingenuity and peer outreach in Vancouver, they have done us all proud. I should say however, that the sheer scale of what drug users are up against in Vancouver seems to ensure our colleagues are constantly fighting hard to maintain some semblance of humanity  for our community there.

The Downtown Eastside, centered on the intersection of Main and Hasting streets in Vancouver, has one of the highest concentrations of injection drug users in the world. An overgrown ‘Skid Row’ is flush with prostitution and destitution, most of its residents live in badly maintained hotels and hostels lining Main Street.

Out of 12,000 residents in the area, some 5,000 are estimated to be drug users and any chat with a peer from these streets or indeed a look at any of the  documentaries on You Tube about the area, shows our peers are struggling;  crack and methamphetamine use remains steady or is increasing and even injecting heroin use continues to rise as much of the scene is now buoyed by pharmaceutical opiates which appears to be collecting young, newer users whereas in other places, like the UK and Western Europe, we are seeing injecting heroin use dropping among the young and plateauing among older users..

Since 2008 it seems over half of Vancouver’s opiate users are on methadone or similar OST’s although the figures aren’t as encouraging for its aboriginal population. For up to date information on the drug situation in Vancouver, Click here.

With such numbers of heavy drug users living in such a deprived area, an outsider could believe any inroads made by progressive harm reduction policies and initiatives are slowly unpicked again by repeated incarceration, illness and infection, discrimination and homelessness. Yet this is the battle that harm reductionists and drug user activists are fighting; it is indeed one step forward and two steps back and lives are literally won and lost on the back of populist election promises, just like in so many parts of the world…

Humanity on Skid Row

Although the battle to save lives and promote humane drug policies in Vancouver however is ongoing, there are certainly signs that the current interventions are working. Yet the aim must be to examine the strategies that are showing results  Statistics show the number of new HIV infections (incidence) may be decreasing among people who inject drugs, females and Aboriginal people and where targeted, innovative health and harm reduction responses are delivered, results generally follow.

According to 2011 national HIV estimates, an estimated  14% of new infections were attributed to injection drug use compared to an estimated 17% of new infection in 2008.*

In Vancouver itself, initiatives across the board have given us all a welcome insight into just what targeted, user friendly and progressive health interventions can do. The project STOP (The Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS Project) was a three-year pilot funded by the Ministry of Health and ending in March 2013. This fascinating endeavour would  ultimately transform the HIV system of care in the city through a variety of initiatives and activities we now know as imperative for change, such as community engagement with people living with HIV, evidence review, consultations with both service and healthcare providers, the development of population-specific reports, constant assessment of the current state of the HIV system of care, policy change, and the funding, monitoring and evaluation of over 40 pilot activities. Phew! A terrific document was recently published which I urge anyone interested in progressive health interventions for this community, to read this (Click Here).

Toronto user activists, still innovating and agitating for their community.

Across the other side of Canada in Toronto, we have the same level of innovative peer initiatives and activism behind many of the most progressive  community approaches to the drug issue. Raffi Balian, a founder member of Toronto’s  exceptional harm reduction service CounterFIT,  told me “The best and most innovative harm reduction initiatives are taking place in cities where people who use drugs are represented by strong unions; such as VANDU in Vancouver, and Brugerforeningen in Copenhagen.  In Toronto” he continued “we have been blessed because we were the first city to distribute crack stems.  A lot of the push came through the work of the Illegal Drug Users Union of Toronto in 2000, followed by the Safer Crack Use Coalition of Toronto (SCUC, 2001-2011).  In Toronto, service users can get as many as 200-300 stems without questions asked.” Upon being asked about the popularity of Vancouver’s crack pipe vending machine, Raffi was quick to enthuse  that the distribution of crack stems through vending machines, “is a brilliant idea and something that we will surely import here [Toronto].  It will take some time and effort, but I’m sure we will learn from VANDU’s efforts and will make it a reality in Toronto – just as we are doing with supervised injection sites. “

Recent moves to copy Vancouver’s famous safer drug consumption room INSITE – (sometimes known as a supervised injection centre or clinic) has been underway, and a feasibility study on injection rooms was actually requested by the City of Toronto in 2008 (and later expanded to include Ottawa). The study was then undertaken by researchers at the University of Toronto and staff at St. Michael’s Hospital,  after watching the developments at INSITE.

The results of the study were released in April 2012 and it advised Ottawa to introduce two “safe consumption” sites and Toronto to open three sites. While they didn’t recommend specific locations, they did suggest more than one centralized location, which is what Vancouver has with its Insite program. Around the same time a Public Health initiated study emerged recommending Montreal also open up to four safe drug consumption rooms, openly referring to the benefits such sites have repeatedly shown in reducing the number of overdose deaths, assisting people to make positive changes in their lives and reducing the drug paraphernalia found on the streets and in the parks.

INSITE – North America’s first drug consumption room in Vancouver

Although conservatives in Toronto raced to  dampen spirits with their usual confused concerns about the recommendations, the brilliant partnership working recently undertaken by drug user activists like those at VANDU, who worked long and hard with various  groups, advocates, researchers, health professionals, lawyers and others to fight for the special exemption to Canada’s Federal Drug Laws which enabled INSITE to remain open for good, (an exemption which now finally stands) today means that cities and provinces like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, can also fight for a similar exemption -and should.

Yet before we say goodnight to our peers in Vancouver (and across Canada) may we just wish our friends luck as they embark on their latest Crack Pipe Vending Machine initiative and hope that other countries may soon follow their courageous lead. Well done in using another tool in the fight to prevent HIV and Hep C, in fostering rights and responsibilities for people who use drugs, and forwarding the adage that judgements and moralising will never help the drugs debate, only humanity, intelligent policies and community partnerships involving the drug using community -will provide us all with the solutions we require now and for the future. G ‘Night friends.

Toronto Public Health

Pic: Another recent initiative that drug using peers have been trained up in, in Toronto -using the anti overdose drug Naloxone, to be administered to an opiate user at the time of an overdose to essentially restart breathing again.

*2011 Estimates of HIV prevalence and incidence in Canada, published by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

The Crack Pipe Vending Machine -A Vice Article.

“Crack pipes: 25 Cents,” reads the sign on a shiny vending machine, painted in bright polka dots. Decades ago, this device sold sandwiches. Now, when you put in your quarter and punch in a number, there is a click, a pause, and a little whirr. Then the spiral rotates until a crack pipe—packaged in a cardboard tube to avoid shattering—drops into a tray. Then you reach through the flap and retrieve your new stem.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through sharing crack pipes. The intense heat and repeated usage that comes with crack addiction can quickly wear pipes down to jagged nubs. Users are always in need of fresh supplies. Like distributing clean needles, making crack pipes available is just good public health policy, as users don’t have to resort to risky activities to come up with the cash to buy one on the street.

The crack pipe vending machine was the dream of Mark Townsend and Mariner Janes, of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit that provides services to persons with mental health and addiction issues. There are currently two machines and they’ve been in place for six months.  Each holds 200 pipes and needs refilling a couple times each week.

One of the machines is located at PHS’s bustling Drug Users Resource Centre. As I arrive there with Mariner, people greet each other as a writing workshop wraps up, while others queue up for lunch. I ask if anyone wants to talk to me about the vending machine that stood in the corner.

Joe looks at me like I’m an idiot, then smiles, and adds: “It’s a vending machine, what else do you need to know?” He says he uses it all the time and that “a quarter is way better than what’d you have to pay on the street.” A bit of a debate kicks off about how to improve the machines e.g. including other crack related supplies: lighters, push sticks, etc.

A woman named DJ chimes in. She uses the machine and tells her friends about it. She says she’d like to see more pipe vending machines around the Downtown Eastside. “But bolt them down… People go: ‘Hey, pipes!’ And shake it to get them to drop out for free.” Mariner nods his head, all too aware of the shaken machine dilemma.

Mariner hopes that distributing pipes will one day be as accepted a practice as handing out needles to IV drug users has become. He says, “the stigma around crack use is much higher than, say, heroin or any other drug. There’s a particular quality of panic.” And he worries about the possible sensationalism that the vending machines might attract from more conservative commentators.

But community support for handing out safe crack smoking supplies is growing. Three years ago, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority began a pipe distribution pilot program. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users started even before that. Vancouver Police have come round, giving the nod to some harm reduction initiatives, even directing users to the safe injection site and other programs.

“Aiyanas Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users told me the vending machines are “a good intervention. Access to a pipe can make the difference for people having a safe practice.” Citing research from the Safer Crack Use, Outreach, Research and Education (SCORE) project, he noted that significant harm reduction comes from distributing pipes to users in the sex trade. They won’t have to work potentially unsafe dates just to pay for the pipe itself.”

Mariner spends his days behind the wheel of PHS’s needle exchange van, doing outreach and distributing clean needles and pipes around Vancouver. There is a neighbourly, comradely feeling between him and the people who use the vending machines, or sidle up to the his van whose purpose is announced in giant letters on the side panel of the vehicle.

Sometimes, a client will ask for a more subtle approach, so as not to announce to the entire neighbourhood what’s going on. Mariner will pull into an alley, or even use a less obvious vehicle. And if a more anonymous interaction is what the user wants, all they need is a quarter. That’s his philosophy—meet people on their own terms, and provide services as a peer, not an authority.

It’s not by chance the vending machine has a happy—rather than official—design; as its meant to contrast the typically cold, heavily secured, and clinical facilities for addicts. The vending machine has an aesthetic that exudes care for the people who will use it. Mariner says “part of the design that we chose is to provide a sense of respect and dignity to the user, who is pretty much stigmatized and reviled everywhere else in the city.”

The look and feel says: I am a machine that dispenses a basic health care supply to the community, not a judgement or moral lecture.

This article was authored by: Garth Mullins ; for VICE and has been copied fully from the VICE.com website.

Feb 7 2014

Norway’s’ Drug Users’ Inject Some Common Sense into Parliament!

Norway’s Drug User’s Day has been arranged every year on November 18 but this year it seemed quite special. Arranged by Arild Knutsen and his companions in The Association for Humane Drug Policies to raise awareness about the issues facing people who use drugs in Norway, this year would see a contingent of passionate drug user activists face their country’s politicians across the table in Parliament – offering opinions and answering questions – all upon invitation by the current Labour Government.

The film shows how drug users in Norway effectively banded together to ask their government to implement heroin prescribing for many of its country’s  10,000  users.

Fully subtitled, the film follows a large group of Norway’s drug users as they put their thoughts and views across to their country’s politicians in an articulate, direct and heartfelt way way, asking simply for the considered implementation of more progressive drug policies that would permit many  the chance to live a more dignified life; for is that not their right like any other?

They ask why, when the results from heroin prescribing in neighboring Denmark is so encouraging as to now be expanded, can’t Norway consider a heroin (diamorphine) trial or programme? Why, when more and more European countries continue to collate positive and encouraging data on the outcomes from heroin prescribing clinics does Norway continue to hold back a tool that could provide so many heroin users with stability, dignity, and well being?

Quoted here, Arild Knutsen  Norway’s Association for Humane Drug Policies (fabulous name!) gives a short introduction to their film (edited)…”There’s around 10,000 injecting drug users in Norway and we want more harm reduction measures for them. Stop the criminalization of drug users! We also want the politicians to try implementing heroin assisted rehabilitation, like Denmark, The Netherlands and Switzerland (among others) have successfully done.”

He continues to describe the film…”Drug users are rallying to be treated with dignity. The group is invited in to The Parliament. This year by The Labour Party. There, drug users’ show the short movie: “Magnus, a Spring Day” which is heroin user Magnus Lilleberg documenting his life, through Munin Films.  Magnus, an Academy Award winner and heroin user, screened his short documentary for politicians in the Norwegian Parliament. Like many others, he tells how Methadone and Subutex haven’t worked for him and he asks the politicians to implement heroin assisted treatment.”

“Then Winnie Jørgensen (Drug User Union, Denmark) appears on a Skype Feed, answering questions about her life now that she gets heroin legally in Copenhagen.”

Amongst others in this film were: Geir Hjelmerud, Torstein Bjordal, Line Huldra Pedersen and Arild Knutsen from The Association for Humane Drug Policies. http://www.fhn.no

facebook.com/pages/Foreningen-for-human-­narkotikapolitikk

Ronnie Bjørnestad from proLAR and Borge Andersen are also profiled as fighting for drug users rights.
A film by Chistoffer Næss and Per Kristian Lomsdalen, Munin Film.

17th of December is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The Red Umbrella is the global sign for sex worker solidarity and rights

The Red Umbrella is the global sign for sex worker solidarity and rights and the NSWP (Network Sex Worker Projects)

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

launches a global consensus

against violence

NSWP (known as Global Network of Sex Worker Projects) is publishing the results of a global consultation exercise, carried out with members in every region, and now written up into all the five languages of NSWP, for December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The publication of the Consensus Statement represents a new tool for sex workers’ advocacy worldwide, as for the first time it distills into a consensus the global demands of the sex worker rights movement. The Consensus Statement details eight fundamental rights that sex worker-led groups from around the world identified as crucial targets for their activism and advocacy, and which, if fully realised, would be a huge step towards safeguarding sex workers’ human rights, labour rights, and health. These eight key rights were identified as:

  • The right to associate and organise;
  • The right to be protected by the law;
  • The right to be free from violence;
  • The right to be free from discrimination;
  • The right to privacy, and freedom from arbitrary interference;
  • The right to health;
  • The right to move and migrate; and
  • The right to work and free choice of employment

The documents – which have been published in both full and summary versions – are available in English (full and summary); French (full and summary); Russian (full and summary); Chinese (fulland summary) and Spanish (full and summary).

 

William Shatner beams it down in the Summer of Lurve

OMG! Friends

The original album was called The Transformed Man and actually came out in 1968, and featured a few of contemporary hits of the time, many with drug references which he obviously embraced wholeheartedly; songs such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Mr Tambourine man (classic). But even weirder, he recites Shakespeare over a soundtrack – Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet,  King Henry the Fifth -and even weirder still – a song called ‘Spleen’ with words by John Lennon.

Being 1968, makes us think he was dead serious when he  made this, tho I don’t think actually will admit that these days… But I swear to you – this is a MUST listen to, you will never loo at William Shatner in the same way again.

It is perfect to cheer you or a buddy up – excellent for accompanying any hallucinogen or ketamine evening, or just getting blown out for the sake of it.

From the album – Spleen and Lucy in the Sky…

And if you just got to hear a bit more – here is bohemian rhapsody from a slighter later production – pure gold!  Enjoy!

 

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