THE TIME OF PEOPLE HAS COME!
In the name of People Who Use Drugs in Portugal (and in the name of us all), we would like to contribute to the public debate on drugs, namely during this important moment: the UNGASS on drugs. Therefore, we believe that the knowledge and experiences from PWUD and their organisations should be taken into account in public debates and decision-making processes.
CASO (Consumers Associated Survive Organised) is a non-profit organisation created in 2007 and formally established in 2010; it is an association that advocates for/promotes healthcare, rights and dignity of People Who Uses Drugs. It is the first and only association in Portugal that is led by drugs users and former drug users. We’ve been working at local, national and international level and our work has been focused in contributing with concrete information on the realities of drug users and drug phenomena, as well as with empirical knowledge to complement academic data, thus helping to improve decision-making.
We believe that the 3 international conventions that configure prohibitionism (the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs [as amended by the 1972 Protocol]; the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) have caused Humankind more harm than good. This legislative framework has lost its ability to operate in our realities in a comprehensive and humanistic way. Therefore, we urge you to promote a thorough reform of the prohibitionism system.
Prohibiting the use of Psychoactive Substances has never stopped Humankind from using them throughout recorded history. The “War on Drugs” and the “Drug-Free Societies” were two big campaigns, supported by moralistic and repressive ideologies, that proved to be incapable of dealing with Drug Phenomena. Beneath a global cover of kindness, these campaigns ended up being against People Who Uses Drugs, their families and friends. These campaigns associated drug users with stereotypes and figures of “evil”, thus creating social representations that highly stigmatise People Who Use Drugs. “Yellow Plague, Chinese and opium”; “Black Devil, cocaine and black people”; “Killer Weed” (a weed that kills the youngsters); “Drugs, Madness, Death” (Portugal) and “The Scourge of Liamba” are some examples of campaigns that generated moral panic and feelings of insecurity in society. To a certain degree, these evil figures and the feelings of insecurity were manipulated and used in political matters, namely in security and healthcare affairs. Scarce resources were made available for the psychosocial support of People Who Use Drugs, their families and friends; and the resources that were actually made available were allocated to reduce drug offer. The majority of funding goes to policies based on moralistic and repressive ideologies, leaving few “leftovers” to the individuals and their specific needs: healthcare, justice, housing, job and education. The self-determination, autonomy, self-knowledge and empowerment for full citizenship are, therefore, compromised in this perpetuating of unbalanced power relationships. This lack of balance conveys the negative message that people are incapable of self-organising, but it also hinders any genuine therapeutic relationship.
Despite all these campaigns, people continue to use psychoactive substances; there are now more users, more diverse patterns of use and more psychoactive substances available. In spite of all the iatrogenic effects (like high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis among People Who Uses Drugs), we can’t catch a glimpse of the promises of a “Drug Free World”. In other words, these actions did not achieve their own goals; they were not flexible enough to deal with reality changes and they were a fertile soil to build a gigantic business. Also, they encouraged the development of a gigantic set of devices to manage drug phenomena in healthcare, justice, security, education, child protection, etc.; however, the drug phenomena have resisted to this model and continue questioning our models and challenging societies, searching for other solutions.
Portugal was a pioneer in moving the focus from crime to healthcare solutions; in 2000/2001, the country introduced in a creative and intelligent set of laws that decriminalised the use or possession of any illegal psychoactive substance. These laws, supported by a National Strategy and Plan, were a positive step to protect the health and rights of People Who Use Drugs. In spite of its positive impact, some users ended up trafficking drugs, in order to support their own addiction; this situation led to violent actions and crime. The majority of users don’t know for sure what they’re using and they have to subject themselves to criminal and highly violent environments (both physically and psychologically). Adding to all this, the Government promotes administrative sanctions and refers users to treatment, even if they are recreational users. The bottom line is that the global moral censorship and ideas like abstinence and cure are still dominant.
In addition to this issue, the necessary scale-up and consolidation of projects and services based on Human Rights, Public Health and Multi-Knowledge approaches (like Harm Reduction, Outreach Work, Peer Work and Involvement), has fallen short.
As for the meaningful involvement of People Who Use Drugs, we feel that the Portuguese Model is moving in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. For example, we feel that civil society organisations should have been consulted and invited to participate in the preparation for the Portuguese participation in the UNGASS on drugs, for this is a central theme for our community.
We recognise many qualities to the Portuguese Model of Decriminalisation, including its focus on healthcare and not on punishment, the promotion of Harm Reduction projects and also of civil society active and meaningful participation. However, and with so many changes in the world, we feel that it is time for an evaluation and improvement. We fear that this model will lose its operational capacities due to the financial crisis and austerity measures, thus leaving drug users without any type of support.
It is now time to accept the mistakes, to examine facts and evidences and to use this high-level meeting to actively evolve to Humanistic (that actually focus on people, thus promoting their participation in all processes and at all levels) and pragmatic (supported by knowledge from Peers, Harm Reduction and other evidences and a proper needs’ assessments) policies.
A “Drug Free World” is an impossible promise to fulfil. This make-believe “Perfect World” is unattainable and has become an enemy of a “Decent World for Us All”.
The World Governments must have the courage to trust people; to believe that they know what is best for them and that they have the ability to make a decision. Governments and society in general have been entangled in this complex net of interests that does not protect and promote the rights and health of People Who Use Drugs.
We firmly believe that the TIME OF PEOPLE HAS COME!
Nothing About Us, Without Us!
Rui Miguel Coimbra Morais
92 636 90 16