International Remembrance Day, 21st July -For those who have died from the War on Drugs – which is a war on people!


This is a speech spoken at a Remembrance Day event in London yesterday. It gives a personal point of view looking at how the War on Drugs -which is a war on people in every part of the world that has been happening for almost 100 years! Here is just one persons story of being inside this insane maelstrom.

My Name is Anna

My name is Anna and I call myself a drug user activist.

I have been a drug injector for over 30 years and a drug user activist for more than half of that.

In that time – like many of us here today – I have seen a lot of things….

And, like many of us here – I have also had some extraordinary relationships, encounters and random chances with many, many people who used drugs.

People who, for the most part – were not dodgy or crazy – well maybe just a little –

Who were not dirty,  lying or cheating horrible people –

But mostly passionate, caring, sensitive and generous people. People who – yes they may have been pushed to the brink –marginalised and isolated by a society that had to criminalise before it cared – judged before it understood; people who should have received better protection from our drug policies – rather than annihilation…..

People who I have loved and cared about, like we all have –and this is why we are here on this very important day today.

As a drug user activist for many years now I have given speeches and presentations at lots of places all over the country –and while every presentation is different – but this one is special.

It is special because this is the one time I can honestly truly stand up and say – loud and proud – how grateful and how fortunate I am to have made friendships with some of the best people in the world – other drug users – fuck – other junkies! – wonderful, courageous people who have often battled huge odds to still be here – today – and many who are literally here today and in this audience.

People who have found each other, often initially through their enjoyment or pain, their that sharing of an illegal substance. You might say prohibition has brought many of us together.

But prohibition has also meant that –many of these very same people – these special, wild and crazy characters – are NOT here today.

Because they are DEAD. Those people –and we all knew someone – who died directly because our insane drug policies continue to make the same mistakes over and over again – day in and day out –while people like I have just mentioned – die!

Think about this: every minute of every day –someones brother or sister is crying out for methadone but cant get it because (like in Russia) they have an idea that it should be kept illegal to stop drug users indulging themselves.

That someones father is being bundled up in a rug in Guatemala and kidnapped by a quazy religious cult who have financially fleeced the relatives by selling a story that incarceration in a blacked out house – against a persons will is the only way to save someone from drugs.

And that – in the filipines a childs mother and father have been shot dead in the street by a vigilante public who cheer the bandits on and tie big signs round their dead necks calling them pushers.

While here in London someones best buddy overdoses alone in a half way hostel because they are using benzos on top of the shitty blackmarket heroin that available in an effort to drown out the misery of life criminalized after yet another prison sentence.

Prohibition is killing our community – over and over, to quickly to count the numbers –only through days like this do we have an opportunity to really reflect on who these policies are really affecting –in real time.

The anger is real – no doubt about that – it is why I became a drug user activist. But I just want to quickly tell you –being an angry activist didn’t happen overnight. It was an accumulation of several lightbulb moments that happened to me – that made me realise – OMG – I do not deserve shit treatment from people and services just because I use drugs and supposedly broke a few rules.

I used to think – well, what could I expect if I did the wrong thing. Jeezus, surely I couldn’t expect to be treated well? I was in the wrong, after all. I didn’t see then that societys label of junkie –and all its connotations – ran so deeply in people – that I was being judged and sentenced by their ignorance.

Ignorance that could literally put my life at risk.

Ill just tell you very quickly about 2 of those litebulb moments:

The first one happened after I had just been diagnosed HIV positive –it was in 1995 and things were different back then –but stigma is stigma and it is still rife today as we know –no matter what its shade or location.

So, 1995, and it was 6 weeks after I had been diagnosed –my first dr appoint. And I went with to this dr appoint –in fact I went with my mum –and I was met by a female dr who proceeded to  hammer me, in the most humiliating way, with a series of 100 questions about my drug use, whether I was sharing needles, did I have anal sex –all delivered with the most accusatory tone I was stunned into virtual silence! My mum –after she picked herself and me – metaphorically -off the floor –said ‘excuse me – I don’t appreciate you speaking to my daughter in that way’; and later, after we left and went for coffee, I realized –what she in fact was brimming with –was a judgement: I was guilty, I was a junky, I had brought this on myself. I was the non deserving.

And I realized in a flash: OMG – I had gone to this dr as an open book – as vulnerable as one can be – we both were – I felt like my life was in her hands –and that she didn’t want it. I wasn’t like everyone else – I really was ‘the other’ and this could literally affect my life now.

It was a lightbulb moment.

Later when a friend and I were bemoaning the fact that there were no drug users speaking on world aids day, considering how we had seen its impact on the injecting community; my friend Andrea, had just been telling me about her husband who had just died of aids. How incredibly courageous he was (in fact John mordant was one of several drug user activists in the world who formed the first front line of user activism back in early 1990s.- also started Mainliners) And that it really felt like there was nowhere for people like him to be welcomed, understood, appreciated –like there was for gay men at the time.

She said to me pointedly “ Because we have heroes too”.

And tears started to well up in my eyes because all of a sudden I thought about all the wonderful people I knew, some of whom were now dead –who never got the appreciation, the respect, the support even the funeral they should have got – just because they used an illegal substance.

But as I said – drug user activism helps me to channel my anger, and has helped me to fight back in constructive ways rather than remaining in a self destructive spiral of guilt, confusion, thwarted ambition, rage.

And days like today are an inspiration – to see all the wonderful people I deeply respect here today –and to celebrate the lives of those who –tragically – and for which there really are no words – are not here today –

Thank you all for coming today to remember those who lived life on the edge –in ways we all sometimes dream about doing but don’t dare –

We will keep remembering them all.

Dedicated to Raffi Ballian – a Canadian masterclass of an activist who died of an overdose this year.

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3 Comments

  1. Amazing speech so moving and speaking the real truth that there is so much love within the drug using community this should be compulsory reading for all those who work in drug treatment so there can be an end to stigma based attitudes. Love and respect x

    Reply
  2. Tony

     /  July 23, 2017

    Very moving words. Thank you Anna, they clearly come from the heart.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Anna, for your thoughts and words. I will spread them.

    Reply

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