Remember, live, act

21 July 2017

Today is an International Remembrance Day for people who have died in the war on drugs

The first Remembrance Day was set up in Germany in 1998 by a group of parents and relatives who lost their loved ones to drugs. Since then, the event that started as small gatherings in different cities has turned into the most significant day for people who use drugs (PWUD) in the country. It was a day of remembrance, activism and lobbying for the rights and freedoms of PWUD. Every year, on July 21st, we once again discuss the most pressing issues such as decriminalization of drugs, substitution therapy and the needle and syringe exchange.

Can drug use be safe? The answer is yes. Are we, medics, social workers, police and all citizens, mothers, fathers and friends, responsible for the death of drug users from an overdose or, say, hepatitis C? Yes we are. We are all responsible because it was us who created a system in which a drug user has to hide, where they can’t be sure what exactly they are using and therefore are unable to choose a safe dose.

The commonplace situation is when, faced with a life-threatening overdose, paramedics don’t possess naloxone which is the only effective remedy. But they definitely have a telephone on them to call the police. The police, in turn, carry out urine drug testing and detain the consumer. The result is a three-year jail sentence. Who, after even one such incident, is going to call an ambulance to save a life?

If tuberculosis requires six months in a treatment centre without access to familiar substances and a normal life, who would ever want to test and be treated for TB?

We program the deaths of people who use drugs when we fail to open substitution therapy sites in every area, although the medication is ridiculously cheap. We kill drug users when we make naloxone a prescription drug or make it very expensive, when we invest in the police and not in safe injection clinics, when we are afraid to offer young people attending music festivals the chance to test the quality of the drug they are about to consume. On this day, International Drug Users Remembrance Day, we do not just sadly remember our lost friends and colleagues.

We also remind ourselves that narcotic drugs as such don’t kill.

What does kill, is the lack of available over-the-counter nasal naloxone, the inability to test drugs and find what’s in them, the lack of medical care at the time of an overdose, the inability to treat TB and hepatitis C without interruptions to drug use and normal life.

The police, who detain people whose only crime is drug use and addiction to an illicit substance to meet their targets, kill as well.

Let’s remember that we are all responsible.