Another place that thinks its fine to kidnap users…

Just thought I would put in a story i saw on the BBC website today. It has left me cold and angry. I get so sick and tired of people who just think it is ok to come and take someone away, lock them up, beat them if necessary, maybe if your lucky your parents know where you are but you don’t get out until they let you…Guatemala, ok so it is having problems with a crack surge, but for Goddsake, this is a money making scam and a human rights violation. Why do we think its ok to just take a person who uses drugs, and think that there life is so worthless, that no one really cares enough to save them, that they actually need to be kidnapped, locked up and never let out. That it is ok to ‘treat’ them psychologically with any sort of unproven bullshit  for hours and days or months at a time. That they need to be made into slaves to work scrubbing floors or cleaning toilets…It is a disgrace and a scam and we need to keep the UN, who it says, said in 2012 that these places must be shut down (enforced treatment centres)…is there something the using community can do to speed this up? 

The rehab centres that lock up addicts against their will

A man behind bars

In Guatemala, behind barred and locked doors, thousands of drug addicts are offered treatment by Protestant churches. Christianity offers salvation for some but many are held against their will, and some are swept off the street by “hunting” parties.

“They grabbed me. They found me completely out of it on the streets, and they just grabbed me.”

Marcos is a big guy. With closely cropped hair, and a huge expanse of chest, he is not the kind of man to tackle lightly. But Marcos was accosted by a group of men in Guatemala City and forcibly taken to a private, Christian rehabilitation centre.

“I was there for about a month and a half, and nobody knew anything about me. People thought I was killed or something, because that’s what happens in Guatemala.”

“I saw terrible things in that rehab – the owner used to beat up the girls. He would tie up the guys and roll them up like a taco in a piece of carpet, and leave them there for hours,” he says.

Listen to Linda Pressly’s report from Guatemala City on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday at 11:00 BST – or find it soon after on BBC iPlayer

Marcos was freed when a friend came looking for him, and demanded his release. He doesn’t think enforced rehab is the right approach and says it did nothing to help him quit his alcohol and drug habit.

“People came out madder and more furious. Instead of being rehabilitated, you just went out to get high again.”

Marcos grew up in the United States – a refugee from Guatemala’s civil war in the 1980s – but was deported back to his parents’ homeland after serving a prison sentence. With family in California, the owner of the rehab centre saw Marcos as a money-making proposition – he tried, and failed, to get contact details for Marcos’ family to ask them for money for Marcos’ keep.

All that is behind him now – Marcos is clean, and is dedicated to mentoring young people.

As there is no residential, state provision for addicts in Guatemala, private rehabilitation facilities have filled the vacuum. There may be as many as 200 Christian centres in Guatemala, possibly holding 6,000 people, estimates Dr Kevin O’Neill, from the University of Toronto, who has made an anthropological study of the centres. It is not known how many of them practice the aggressive “hunting” Marcos experienced.

A rehab centre with metal bars on the outsideOne of the private rehabilitation centres that have sprung up in Guatemala City

O’Neill believes Guatemala is confronting a surge of addiction. Its strategic location in Central America means the majority of illicit narcotics moving from South America to the United States make landfall here. And the fallout is a growing local market for highly addictive drugs like crack cocaine.

“It’s increased the number of centres in the capital city. But it’s also changed the culture inside the centres – the internal dynamics have become much more aggressive, and much more discipline-driven because of the rise of crack cocaine,” he says.

The founder and director of the Rescatados del Abismo, Rescued from the Abyss, centre is Pablo Marroquin, a born-again Christian and former drug addict.

Pablo Marroquin at his rehab centre

“I’d been in other rehabilitation centres, but I wanted to make mine more personal. I put it in the hands of God – he’s the only one who can rescue us from drug addiction,” he says.

Marroquin lives on the ground floor of an unremarkable building in Guatemala City with his family, his budgerigars, and a pack of small, snappy dogs.

On the first floor, behind a locked, barred door, 54 addicts mill around. Many of them will not be allowed to leave for at least three months – but it could be years. Only the addicts’ families or the director himself sanction the release of those interned here.

It is a confined space for so many people – the size of a large, three-bedroom flat. Off a common area, there is a bathroom, a room stacked with roughly-constructed bunks for those with privileges -most inmates sleep on the floor – and a bedroom for the six women internees.

A man sits on the floor against the wall, eating out of a bowl

Currently, the smooth running of the centre is down to Carlos – an internee who has been into rehab more than 30 times to try to overcome his addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol. Carlos imposes discipline and punishment at Rescatados del Abismo.

“When people arrive they can be very violent, and the only way to respond to that is with violence. It makes me uncomfortable, but it’s extremely important to maintain discipline here,” he says.

CarlosCarlos, an internee himself, maintains order at Rescatados del Abismo

Forcing an internee to clean the floors or to work at night are other forms of punishment.

Internees are partly controlled by compulsory attendance at meetings. They spend seven hours a day telling and re-telling each other their stories, charting their descent into addiction. These meetings are the only “therapy”.

They are not structured, there is no psychologist or doctor involved, and no one is allowed to leave the room without permission. While listening to the testimony, the residents sit in shadow – the barred windows of the meeting room are covered with thick yellow corrugated plastic.

Freddie speaking to other internees

It is impossible to see the street from anywhere inside the centre.

“The vast majority, I would say 95% of the internees are here against their will,” says Carlos.

“Now he’s there, we have a bit more peace of mind – if he were in the street, anything could happen here in Guatemala”

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz, brother of Victor, an internee

When desperate families call the centre asking for help with a substance-abusing loved one, he often accompanies the director to go and pick an addict up.

“It’s our role to bring them here, and that can mean using handcuffs like the police. Sometimes a family will say their son is very violent and has a knife or machete. In those cases we tie him up before bringing him here.”

Carlos believes this is legal in Guatemala. A ministerial accord of 2006 states that an addict can be interned when they are not in a fit state, but once they have recovered sufficiently, they must give consent. By all accounts, this rarely happens.

At the Ministry of Health, the regulation and co-ordination of the centres comes in the shape of just one man – Hector Hernandez has worked for the last 14 years to try to improve the centres and make them more humane. He has closed some, but he says forced detention has never been proven.

“Not even the attorney for the defence of human rights has been able to establish there are people detained against their will – there’s been no confirmation of any allegations made,” he says.

During the compulsory meetings at Rescatados del Abismo, Victor Ruiz reads his well-thumbed bible. An abuser of crack cocaine and alcohol, he has been here for three months. Victor believes only God and Jesus Christ will rescue him from addiction.

Victor Ruiz reading his bible

“I think I’ll be here for another five months, it all depends what my brothers decide,” he says.

Before he came to the centre, Victor was living on the streets. One day when the family could not find him anywhere, his older brother, Carlos Ruiz went to look for Victor at the morgue.

“I was looking at the photos of dead people to see if one of them was him. It’s really shocking. These things stay with you, it’s like you die a bit too,” he says.

After Victor was attacked in the street by someone with a machete, the family had him interned in Rescatados del Abismo.

“Now he’s there, we have a bit more peace of mind – if he were in the street, anything could happen here in Guatemala.”

The director of Rescatados del Abismo, Pablo Marroquin, has little patience with arguments about whether the regime he runs violates the rights of internees, especially when they are held involuntarily.

“What about families? What we do is give families peace, so their loved one doesn’t get himself into trouble. And so that he won’t kill them,” he counters.

Adverts for other rehab centresAdverts for other rehabilitation centres in Guatemala City, with the left one titled “Warriors of Christ”

There is no data about how successful the rehabilitation of addicts is in Guatemala. In 2012, the United Nations called on all member states to close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres.

“There is no evidence that these centres represent a favourable or effective environment for the treatment of drug dependence,” declared the UN statement.

Many experts believe addicts can never be forced to change – they have to want to stop. And in Guatemala there are many Christian establishments that will only take addicts on a voluntary basis.

But Pablo Marroquin, clean now for 22 years, is a testament to his own approach to rehabilitation.

“I experienced God’s mercy – he rescued me. He brought me to a rehabilitation centre where I met myself, and I met God. And these days, I’m a happy man.”

Listen to Linda Pressly’s report from Guatemala City on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday at 11:00 BST – or find it soon

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!

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)

A young Russian and a message you can’t forget.

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

Russia’s Aleksey Kurmanaevskiy speech delivered at the UN High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in New York – June 9 2011 by INPUD on Thursday, 09 June 2011 at 18:33:

INPUD is a global peer-based organisation that seeks to promote the health and defend the rights of people who use drugs. We will expose and challenge stigma, discrimination and the criminalisation of people who use drugs and its impact on our community’s health and rights. We will achieve this through processes of empowerment and international advocacy. Find us at: http://www.inpud.net, Facebook/INPUD, Twitter/INPUD. Blog at: http://www.inpud.wordpress.comThe following speech was delivered by Aleksey Kurmanaevskiy at A dialogue on HIV and Human Rights at: Universal Access for Key Affected Populations. This event was hosted by the United Kingdom and the Republic of South Africa together with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. This session took place at the High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS at the United Nations in New York City.

Aleksey is from Russia and is 30 years old. He has been dependent on drugs for 15 years, and has been living with HIV for 11 years. He is a member of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) and will speak with you today for people who inject drugs, those who are living with HIV\AIDS, and for the members of the drug using community who are no longer with us because of HIV\AIDS, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis, and drug Overdoses.

Text of Aleksey’s speech:

Q1 – Highlight key challenge or obstacle & successful action or approach:

I would like to call to attention the laws and practices that are based on the criminalization of people who use drugs and the consequences of these measures. In our opinion, the practice of imprisoning people who use drugs in order to deny them their freedom or subjecting them to coerced treatment for the personal use of drugs should be ended. Imprisonment and coerced treatment are clear breaches of human rights that undermine the public health of people who use drugs and the wider community.

The criminalisation of people who use drugs and the widespread stigma and discrimination against our community results in people hiding and living in fear and secrecy. This can cut people off from family support and drives people further into problem drug use. As such, punitive laws can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies with my community and undermine access to and retention in services. As a result, punitive laws are costly and ineffective.

The introduction of science-based harm reduction interventions like needle and syringe programmes, opioid substitution therapy (OST), and overdose management programmes is saving the lives of my community in many countries in the world. We have the experience, the evidence and tools to end concentrated epidemics of HIV among people who inject drugs. 30 years of evidence demonstrates that OST radically improves the health and wellbeing of people who take drugs and supports our engagement in HIV and TB treatment. Significantly OST gives people who are dependent on heroin and other opiate drugs an alternative to crime and allows us to fully participate in and contribute to society. History has shown that when people who use drugs are involved in the design, development and delivery of HIV prevention interventions, the reach is greater, the quality is higher and there is better value for money.

Q2 – 1 or 2 key recommendations to HLM on practical way forward:

I am a husband and father of two sons and very much want peace and mutual understanding within my family. I learned that it is absolutely critical to listen to my loved ones. Before agreeing on a solution, we consider all of the possible alternatives. The very welfare of our family depends upon this process of open dialogue.

I have drawn this analogy deliberately. The family can be viewed as a microcosm of society. We are all members of one global family. Though we all have unique worldviews, customs, and ways of life, there is no doubt that we have to deal with the HIV epidemic together. The foundation of such mutual understanding through dialogue is the first step in this process.

Around the world people who inject drugs are giving sterile injecting equipment to their friends, are sharing education and knowledge and supporting service access. At a global and regional level drug user organisations are supporting consultation and contributing to policy development. At a country level we can provide a community watch dog function helping donors to spend money wisely and programmers to deliver services effectively.

Our challenge to all countries is meaningfully involve people who use drugs in the design, implementation and monitoring of the HIV response. If you are serious about engaging us as true partners then this has include the resourcing of our organisations and the meaningful participation of our representatives. This is key to reversing the trajectory of the HIV epidemic and bringing under control the spiraling costs of HIV. It is time to stop framing my community always as the problem and instead to recognise that we are a key part of the solution to HIV.

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