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.

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.

 

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

Avoiding Hepatitis C / HIV – Tips from your peers

An article based on a research paper

by Sam Friedman et al.

Looking at How Some IV Users Manage to

Become ‘Double Negatives’.

In some climates where disturbingly high rates of infection exist, what key things are people doing in their daily using lives that conspire to keep them free from infection when so many of our  peers become positive. Sam Friedman et al looked into this subject and found some consistent factors

A brief BP comment before we introduce Sams article; We are always focusing on just HOW we end up getting blood borne viruses, and many of us have ended up getting, if not HIV then much more commonly, Hepatitis C (or B) -in some countries or prisons Hep C rates can be as high as 70-90% of all injectors. Yet we all know people who have managed to inject drugs for decades yet have avoided becoming infected with anything. Sam Friedman et al has turned the usual research approach  on its head here and put our own drug using culture under the microscope – searching for the little gems -those habits or behaviours that WE have utilised to keep us safe from such  infections, regardless of how long one has been injecting.

This is not about focusing on what ‘they did right and you did wrong’. No, this is about pulling

Negative (Negative album)

Sam Friedman’s research into the ‘Double Negatives’

together the cultural threads and day to day choices one can make that helps to create the environment you need to protect your health. It is interesting to see how adopting a few strategies around your using lifestyle, can work to protect you from what can be extremely common infections. Of course in a world of prohibition, opportunities to choose a safer path can change dramatically overnight, such as a stay in prison. Sometimes, with all the knowledge and support in the world, you can just be damn unlucky, or have no control over transmission events.

However, it is worth looking at Friedmans research to see, against just such a prohibitionist backdrop,  with perils around almost every corner, how our negative peers manage to stay negative -leaving us with the thought; “Can I incorporate some of these tactics/strategies/principles/street codes into my using life? Well yes you can -and all of these ‘tips’ are just as relevant for a positive person as well – after all, who wants to get re-infected? So, enough of the prologue, take it away Sam! PS -BP has added the odd hopefully useful comment in italics.

Staying Safe: How you and others might

avoid becoming infected with hepatitis C or

HIV?

Most people who inject drugs get infected with hepatitis C within a few years (often their first few years of IV using). Some also get infected with HIV. This happens in spite of all the syringe exchange, pharmacy syringe distribution programs, drug treatment, and other harm reduction efforts they engage in—and all the ways they help each other to have safer and happier lives.

“Some people who inject drugs do NOT seem to

get infected with either virus.

What are their resources or strategies?

How might you, your friends or your children

learn from how they did it?”

To read the full article and pick up a few tips, click here.

Australia’s hidden gem: A Tradition of Exceptional Drug User Orgs

Terrific examples of Drug User Run Organisations

Here is something you will rarely hear about emanating from Australia, or mooted by its politicians. Yet it is worth shouting about -and worth emulating — and demanding more recognition for its many excellent years of work outside the drugs field! In Australia, the user run, federally funded AIVL (Australian Injecting & Illicit drug users League) is an incredible, national organisation that is at the centre of the some of the best harm reduction initiatives in OZ and in the world.  Extremely well versed in drug policy and politics, AIVL  and its team of extremely able people who use/d drugs (many at the top are women!) have been tireless in their innovation, research and developments to help empower the drug using community in ways to look after themselves, each other and their communities. The publish a National user magazine called Junkmail (like our BP blog,by coincidence -(we called it Junkmail after BP’s letters page although Junkmail has been the Aussie national mag for many years)). Many states like NSW, Queensland and Victoria also have their own excellent magazines by and for users – with NSW probably having the longest running user mag in the world in Users Voice by NUAA.

Positioned as the national drug user organsiation, AIVL members stretch across Australia, and in each state there is another State ‘user run’ organisation, which has just as much oomph, savvy, and articulateness as their ‘mothership’ AIVL. Organisations like QuIVAA (Queensland Intravenous AIDS assoc) which aims to “represent the diversity of interests of injectors and illicit drug users, through systemic advocacy aimed at addressing issues affecting users in Queensland” (Fantastic!) -along with other groups in what can sometimes really seem like a police state -Northern territory for example, or where in Western Australia they lock up more indiginous folk per head of population than anywhere in the world, targeting plenty of drug users and throwing them in the lock up in the process, over and over again…Shameful.

But you really can count on the user activists in OZ to be fighting the good fight, and if you are ever searching for good quality info on harm reduction and user rights in English – here is a good place to start. BP will be adding more reviews about user orgs as we go. (Sweden next)

AIVL gives you the list of contacts for all states in Australia – great orgs to seek out should you ever be travelling there and need advice or help with scripts, legal issues, the low down on the local scene etc.

AIVL, is Australia’s national org (click here) but here is a list of Australia’s State Organisations run by and for people who use drugs.

Canberra – CAHMA  (Canberra Alliance for Harm Minimisation and Advocay)

QueenslandQUIVAA   (Queensland Intravenous AIDS Assoc) and

NSW – NUAA (NSW Users AIDS Assoc)

Andrey Rylkov Foundation’s website shut down in Russia

Here is an article from our friends at Harm Reduction International, writing about a truly appalling situation (another one) to emerge from Russia -affecting our dear friends and peer activists at Andrey Rylkov Foundation.  This courageous HIV/AIDS, drug and human rights organisation has consistently raised their head above the parapet (in a country where it can be literally be beaten off), and given people much needed health and harm reduction information in a climate of fear and intimidation.  One can only imagine what that must be like, to work every day knowing that you could be arrested, imprisoned, fitted up on a trumped up charge (which has happened repeatedly to other HIV and human rights activists) while thousands upon thousands of people are desperate for the sterile syringes that you give out, and the HIV information you impart. Last World AIDS day, December 1st 2011, ARF were instrumental in supporting us at BP (and INPUD) to coordinate the global Russian embassy protest, an attempt to shame Russian officials about their inaction and lack of response to the HIV catastrophe unfolding in their country. We are deeply concerned at this latest attempt by the Russian government to silence anyone or any organisations that discuss methadone in what is an ” ongoing assault on HIV prevention” taking things to the “next level by moving to silence public health advocates whose only infraction has been to spread life-saving information online and to criticize the government for its own failures.” We will keep you posted of developments. Catch ARF on facebook, and join to keep up to date with what is looking to be a highly charged time in Russian life and politics.

 

 

 

Authors:  

Vladimir Putin wrote a recent column praising the potential for “internet-based democracy”. But the Russian government adopts rules allowing for websites to be shut down on a

Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin's iron grip on power continues to circumvent free speech in Russia, as yet again, HIV & drug organisations like ARF are targeted.

whim, and has used those rules to close down HIV prevention sites.

He talked about free medical care being one of the priorities of Russian citizens. But that care denied to millions of Russian people.

While Prime Minister Putin spoke glowingly of digital democracy, his anti-drugs agency is censoring websites for writing about WHO essential medicine.

“[It’s over] methadone, plain and simple” said Anya Sarang, President of the Andrey Rylkov Foundation, which had its website shut down over the weekend.

The government’s anti-drugs agency, FSKN Moscow Department demanded that the Andrey Rylkov Foundation’s service provider block their website, utilizing new rules adopted last year. The notification states it was due to “placement of materials which propagandize (advertise) the use of drugs, information about distribution, purchasing of drugs and inciting the use of drugs”

What the Foundation was doing was spreading the word about basic HIV prevention measures and commenting on the Russian government’s policies.

Amidst pro-democracy protests, the Russian authorities have taken what is an ongoing assault on HIV prevention to the next level by moving to silence public health advocates whose only infraction has been to spread life-saving information online and to criticize the government for its own failures.

Russia is home to one of the biggest populations of injecting drug users, and one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world. It is estimated that there are just under two million injecting drug users in Russia. In some regions, more than 80 percent of people living with HIV in the country contracted the virus through injecting with contaminated equipment.

According to the World Health Organization, methadone is an essential medicine, for treating heroin dependence and for preventing HIV transmission by reducing the practice of injecting. Multiple scientific studies back this up.

But the Russian government’s ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illicit drugs is well known and has resulted in the outright denial of methadone (or ‘opioid substitution therapy’). It is illegal in Russia.

The net result of these policies is a massive increase in the number of people living with HIV in the country over the last decade.

According to UNAIDS, “In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there was a 250% increase in the number of people living with HIV from 2001 to 2010. The Russian Federation and Ukraine account for almost 90% of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region’s epidemic. Injecting drug use remains the leading cause of HIV infection in this region”.

“People all over the world take this medication for granted” says Sarang, “but here in Russia it’s central to our struggle against HIV and it’s banned. Now, even our speaking about it seems to be banned.”

This is not the first time Russia has attempted to censor civil society voices for public health. At the UN General Assembly talk on HIV last March the Russian delegation tried to stop a Ukrainian drug user from speaking about HIV prevention. Fortunately, others were not happy with such censorship and the effort failed.

“The right to information is essential to realizing the right to health,” said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, in a statement. “A government agency such as Federal Drug Control Service should not have the ability to ban websites at the whim of a bureaucrat. This is particularly so when considering the impact of censoring discussions relating to drug addiction or HIV/AIDS.”

For years, human rights advocates like the Andrey Rylkov Foundation have argued that Russia’s colossal failure to provide vital services is a breach of its obligation under international law to respect, protect and fulfill the right to health. The government’s latest crackdown against public health activists has turned the matter into an issue of freedom of expression.

Mr. Putin says that democracy needs “efficient channels for dialogue… communication and feedback,” while the government’s actions silence people fighting to raise issues the government is refusing to face. This silences the spread of information. It silences the democratic process.

Source of publication: http://www.huffingtonpost.com

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Dec 1st Russian Embassy Protest -Be there!

The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with...

WORLD AIDS DAY

On Dec 1st, 2011, World Aids day, people in 8 countries around the world will descend on Russian Embassies -To protest at the criminal treatment of people who use drugs – in the biggest catastrophe in the history of HIV in recent times. (See below for where and when).

In Russia today, we are bearing witness to one of the biggest, avoidable catastrophes in the history of HIV – the lack of response to the epidemic in Russia. We must point directly to the specific responsibility that Russian medical and public health officials bear for creating and sustaining this disastrous situation. Of particular concern are Russia’s, brutalising drug policies and its recently revised Total War on Drugs, which has resulted in further pushing people who use drugs into hiding, prison, and enforced detention, and severely compromising efforts from the international community to revert the trajectory of HIV/AIDS. The world is approaching a crossroads; a strong and decisive downward trajectory in the epidemic is possible in all countries -but it will only happen if the people who are most vulnerable to infection are supported and their human rights realised. Governments have legal obligations to act. Indeed, the implementation of harm reduction measures is consistant with and required by states obligations under international human rights law. 1,2.

Injecting drugs with contaminated equipment is driving Russia’s HIV epidemic, now the fastest growing in the world and it is reflected in the numbers; as many as 80% of new infections are occurring amongst people who inject drugs (PWID), in a total HIV positive population of approx 1million. With this in mind, recent projections forecast an additional 5 million people could become infected with HIV in the near future, unless Russia transforms the way it is dealing with its HIV pandemic.6

Russian authorities have repeatedly come in for fierce international criticism over their policy towards the treatment of drug dependence, which relies almost completely on the promotion of abstinence to the exclusion of harm reduction.  Russian officials claim, incorrectly, that the effectiveness of opiate substitution therapy (such as providing methadone and buprenorphine) has not been adequately demonstrated, and as such it is prohibited by law. Yet, despite the addition in 2005 of these two drugs to WHO’s list of essential medicines, and multiple position papers by international experts calling for substitution treatment as a critical element in the response to HIV (IOM, 2006; UNODC, UNAIDS, and WHO, 2005), methadone or buprenorphine remain prohibited by law in Russia and promotion of its use – punishable by a jail sentence.
Compare this legitimate injection kit obtained...

Sterile needles and syringes are proven ways to prevent the spread of HIV

With over 30,000 people dying from drug overdoses every year, numbers that can be shown to markedly reduce with the implementation of OST, and 150 becoming infected with HIV each day (2/3rds of which are injecting drug users), also evidenced to drastically reduce with the roll out of Needle and Syringe Programmes (NSP), it is upon everyone who cares about humanity, to demand an immediate transformational shift in Russia’s approach to HIV prevention and its treatment of drug users.  Access to NSP and OST is in itself, a human right;  UN Ruman Rights Monitors have specifically stated harm reduction interventions as necessary for states to comply with the right to health. 5)

Consistent evidence from around the world shows that treatment for opiate dependence works most effectively when the exclusive goal of abstinence is widened to foster multiple outcomes – including reduction in use of illicit opiates, exposures to blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis, reduction in drug overdoses, better management of existing health problems etc. Evidence has repeatedly shown the clear benefits to the individual and society as a whole when drug dependence is viewed as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal one. Evidence also shows OST, combined with a range of harm reduction measures such NSP, leads to a drastic reduction in the spread of new HIV infections in countries across the globe; none of this more clearly demonstrated today, than in Netherlands, a world leader in harm reduction where in 2010, only ONE injecting drug user contracted HIV. In the UK, another country that has harm reduction at the centre of its HIV prevention strategy, prevalence of HIV amongst drug injectors is at 1.5%, this against a Russian HIV prevalence backdrop of 30-35%. The evidence on harm reduction has been in for years. Why does Russia continue to turn its back?
The Russian government‘s estimated annual expenditure related to drug law enforcement) equal approx 100 million US  dollars. 7. This amount does not include the money spent on detention and imprisonment. In stark comparison, only 20 million US dollars was allocated to HIV and hepatitis B and C  prevention combined, among all population groups in 2011. By 2013, amounts spent will be three times less. Considering the context and tendencies in the development of the HIV epidemic in Russia, clearly such policies are not leading to any positive results. No money at all is allocated towards HIV prevention among the injecting drug using population.6Such punitive and torturous approaches to tackling drug use are not only fuelling the HIV epidemic in the region, but also the stigma, hate and ignorance of drugs, and of people who use drugs.  The insistence by both the Russian government and medical profession to treat drug users as criminals that need imprisonment at worst, and at best – enforced detention, has meant harm-reduction programs, including needle exchange, are officially accused of propagandizing drug use and activists have been arrested, harrassed and imprisoned for promoting harm reduction measures. Demonstrators who have protested and spoken out against the Russian response to HIV/AIDS are also regularly arrested and detained, including HIV positive people calling for access to ARV’s (drugs to treat HIV) and an end to treatment interruption fuelling drug resistant strains of HIV.This World Aids Day, December 1st 2011, we will echo the urgent voices of Russian drug users who are living and dying in the grip of an HIV and TB pandemic with almost no recourse or chance to engage in or promote an effective response.  . We will gather at Russian embassies around the world to demand Russia to change it current course towards death and disease. We want to see inappropriately aggressive, state sponsored hostility to drug users replaced by enlightened, scientifically driven attitudes and more equitable societal responses” 3 We demand our own countries to apply pressure wherever and whenever they can, voicing publicly our concerns about human rights abuses in the Russian response to drug use and HIV.
Sound, evidenced based and cost effective harm reduction solutions stand at the forefront of what has been shown to effectively prevent HIV infection in the drug using community. The personal narratives of people who use drugs and their allies on the front line of human right struggles must be recognised and remain a key part of today’s growing evidence base. People who use drugs must be seen as central players in the search for solutions rather than being framed and targeted as the problem.
Nothing About Us Without Us  www.inpud.net
Dec 1st at Russian Embassies in London, Stockholm, Berlin, Bucharest, New York, Sydney/Canberra, Spain (?), and Toronto. Dec 1st
 for times and locations follow updates at http://russianembassyprotest.wordpress.com or (add your email/website)

1) UNIDCP Flexibility of Treaty positions as regards harm redcution approaches, decision 74/10 Geneva UN 2002 ,
2) UNODC World Drug Report Vienna 2009
3) Lancet July 2010 HIV in people who use Drugs
4) The right to the highest attainable standard of health; Article 12, comment 14  International Covenent on  Economic, Cultural and Social Rights 2000
5) Barrett D et al;  Harm Reduction and Human Rights, the Global response to drug related HIV Epidemics. London, HRI, 2009
6) News Release, Oct 7th 2011, Risk of HIV Hitting Catastrophic Levels; from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Eurasian Harm Reduction Network; Harm Reduction International;
7) Articles 228-233 of the Russian Criminal Code

Different perspectives on the Political Declaration on HIVAIDS 2011

Estimated number of people in the world living...

Numbers of people living with HIV in 2008

New York’s user led Harm Reduction Coalition runs a weekly podcast on a range of interesting subjects and during the High Level Meeting in HIV/AIDs that occurred in New York early June, Allan interviews several people (including myself) and gains a few different perspectives on just how people felt about the declaration and their input into it. Over to you Allan (text taken from the HRC podcast website)

High Level Meeting on AIDS: A report back from New York. A new Political Declaration emerged from the recent United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS. This week’s podcast features interviews with participants in the meeting – Erin O’Mara from the International Network of People Who Use Drugs, Pablo Cymerman of Intercambios and Rick Lines from Harm Reduction International. The final Political Declaration is available here
Click here for the Podcast – no 33 

(The Harm Reduction Coalition has an excellent website, highly recommended and with good activist roots and the organisation is a definate contact point for any person who uses drugs when looking for drug related support in New York)

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