Trend rather than achievements

24 August 2015
David Porchkhidze, 38. Kutaisi, Georgia. Psychologist by education. Expert in community work at harm reduction organization Rubicon.

My history of drug use

My history of drug use is not typical. First I tried using drugs at 17, and those were not injectable drugs but cough pills that contained codeine. Those pills had a side effect in the form of euphoria. Actually, talking of injectable drugs, I rarely used them. The real problems occurred when I began using alcohol in addition to the pills. Compared to the drugs, alcohol really made my life worse – I became aggressive, couldn’t work, I divorced my wife and even attempted suicide.

After a few years, I finally stopped drinking and returned to a full and active life. I spent two years working in social services, and then as a prison psychologist. As for the pills, they were different but always present in my life.

Compared to injecting drug use, my case is easier but it’s also more severe because substitution therapy (OST), as effective as it is, can never help me. Unfortunately, OST doesn’t help with pills – in fact, it produces an opposite effect. I have quit repeatedly, but it’s virtually impossible, and it doesn’t make sense. These drugs will be in my life forever; the changes at the brain level are irreversible. When I take them everything goes well in my life: I work and I take care of my family.

The significance of harm reduction

Although harm reduction can’t help me, in general I see how effective it is. Since 2009, I have worked at the harm reduction organization The New Way. We gave out syringes and condoms, and provided counseling. In my city at that time (and even now) the level of drug use was very high, because for long Kutaisi was considered the former USSR’s capital of crime. Eight out of ten drug users living in Kutaisi have hepatitis. It’s clear that harm reduction is the only defense for those who inject drugs. I see the effects, and I meet people whom we saved from overdoses. And they are no more just our clients, they are our friends.

Quitting drugs without OST is extremely difficult. When you’re on OST, the dosage goes down gradually and that gives you the opportunity to quit completely. Many people quit, but many return; the psychological dependency is still there, and psychosocial rehabilitation is scarce in Georgia. There are problems with the therapy itself. There are few OST sites and among those that exist not all have professional staff; at some centres social workers sometimes have no idea of what has to be done for the clients. But this can be remedied and in general, OST in Georgia fulfills its purpose, but there just aren’t any rehabilitation centres. Our dream is to create a good modern rehab centre, and I hope this dream comes true.

We have become stronger

After a few years of working at The New Way, we realized that the time had come for expanding our field of work and paying more attention to the rights of drug users; those rights are violated all the time. As a result of this talk, Rubicon was created; it is an organization that includes both community representatives and those that don’t use drugs but sympathize with PUD. At the given moment I am an expert in working with communities.

Rubicon is actively involved in decriminalization of drug use. We do our best to achieve that goal. We try to influence decision makers in every possible way. Moving in that direction is difficult: every step forward is followed by a step back. Once we achieve something, a new repressive bill gets adopted.

We always act with open faces. When we show that we have nothing to hide and we’re not afraid, people begin to see us without prejudice. Also, we are on TV often, and organize rallies. We work with mass media as we know many journalists, meaning we can change some things at least at a local level.

Before, nobody really tried to paint a full picture of what goes on at the needle exchange and OST sites. We were the first to analyze their activities and gather statistics that allow successful advocacy.

I believe that the key is not achievements but rather the general trend. And the trend is such that as an organization we have become stronger and we have been noticed. Moreover, we have been taken seriously. Recently we were visited by the town elders, and we could see they thought: these guys are no joke. So, slowly but surely we have established a certain trend and we’re being taken seriously.

Speaking of me personally

Speaking of me personally and of my input in the common cause, thanks to my education I can easily come into contact with people and am able to formulate my thoughts clearly, which is an important part of what we do. I used to work in the municipal government and mingled with government officials, so I know how to convey my ideas for those in charge. I think my education and work experience make me an important part of my organization.

Aside from my professional experience, there is my personal life and it makes me very happy. It’s a trivial observation but my children are the main source of joy for me. And also, recently I got married for a second time, and we are still thriving in our relationship.

Briefly but clearly

If I had to briefly explain to the general public the importance of harm reduction, I would say that harm reduction is about saving lives. You would think, this only concerns drug users but in reality it is about everyone. Whatever is happening with drug users can influence your life. If we make public the list of HIV positive people in Georgia we will see hundreds of people whose relatives used to speak out against harm reduction, thus indirectly helping HIV spread.

If I had to briefly justify to the decision makers the need to fund harm reduction, I would emphasize the fact that prevention is always cheaper than treatment. Consequently, harm reduction is above all important for the national budget, and this can’t be ignored.

Overall, my life agenda can be summarized as “Doubt but act”. However difficult it may be, you should try to achieve success, both for yourself and for everyone else, by all humane means possible. And even when it’s difficult, or when you’re lazy, you must make an effort to go ahead.