Stigma is such a powerful negative force, It really is. Drug user health is a hot topic these days with epidemic proportions of young people using opiates, unintentional overdose death rates surpassing car accident deaths, the reemerging of HIV outbreaks related to injection drug use in southern states where there are no legal syringe exchanges, and hepatitis C endemic among injection drug users.
Stigma stands in the way of good public health. Stigma effects how we see people that use drugs. Society has painted such an ugly picture of “the addict” that we don’t usually think of people that use drugs as being part of the solution. As a society we hear drug user, or drug addict, and immediately have negative imagery. We think of liars, criminals, thieves, irresponsible parents, selfish, sociopaths. As long as we see drug users like this we cannot perceive that they should be part of the solution or that they are the experts regarding their lived experiences.
- Most people that use drugs are not addicted to them! Drug use in and of itself is not always a problem.
- Most people do not become abstinent, rather they find ways to moderate as they get older.
- If you have a unhealthy relationship with 1 specific drug you are not destined to have unhealthy dependencies to all drugs.
- People who are struggling with unhealthy relationships to drugs do not necessarily want to stop using drugs.
- SUBSTANCE MISUSE/ADDICTION requires multiple solutions.
- Because we criminalize people that use drugs our rehabs often behave as if they are subsidiaries of the criminal justice system. This means that rehabs treat people like criminals instead of patients.
Urban Survivor’s Union is the first and only drug user union in the US south. The south is full of conservative attitudes and dogma run. The south has the highest rates of disease and death associated with drug use and these attitudes make it all the more imperative that we support drug user unions. We understand the problem and that makes finding a viable solution that works possible. The union helps create leaders and encourages community activism and civic participation. Drug user unions are good for drug user health!
Drug user unions have the ability to improve conditions for drug users. First and foremost drug user unions provide an opportunity for people who previously were not engaged in the political system or democratic process. Feminist theory talks about how women need to be the ones who step up and make changes in the system to end sexism. It cannot be others who are “helping”. It is the same for drug users. We need to be the ones who are improving conditions for people that use drugs. “Nothing about us without us”.
Some of NC-USU’s priority issues are:
- Providing direct services to drug users living in NC especially some of the rural areas. We have been providing underground syringe exchange services for the last 5 years. We provide sterile supplies and overdose prevention/naloxone.
- Work to end stigma associated with drug use.
- Create an advocacy agenda that encourages decriminalization of syringes and minor drug offenses.
- Encourage harm reduction support groups and harm reduction service organizations-
- Create a leadership academy where drug users learn about the democratic process, how to have effective meetings etc.
- Encourage HIV and HCV prevention and treatment for drug users.
There are two competing philosophies when it comes to drug user health. We have public health officials in one hand and police and criminalizaiton efforts in another. They are diametretically opposed. You can’t have a useful legal syringe exchange if the police are watching from around the way arresting people who are at the exchange. In cities where syringe exchanges are legally and operational the police and the exchange have an understanding …..
So herein lies the problem. Drug users are not able to access services because upon admitting they are using drugs they are in fact admitting they are criminals and in that moment put their selves and loved ones at risk for a host of negative consequences. I don’t think there is ever a situation that you have done yourself a favor by admitting you have a drug problem!!! Drug user unions have multiple functions. They organize people that use drugs which often helps users who have isolated and are not as connected to people and life as they could be. IN some cases unions are able to ignite the passion of drug users. They often empower members who have not historically had any interest in voting, or advocacy projects. The drug war has harmed so many of us, in such profound ways it is difficult not to have passion for bringing an end to this war. Drug user unions are key to improving drug user health.
CRIMINALIZATION HAS UNDERMINED OUR HUMAN RIGHT TO HEALTH WE MUST GET INVOVLED. WE HAVE THE POWER OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS.