The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The  19th  International Conference on The Reduction of Drug Related Harm, Bangkok, Thailand

INPUD Users Choice session

Presenters: Claire Robbins(UK), Matt Southwell(UK), Jude Byrne(Aus) and Dean Lewis(India), (chaired by Jimmy Dorabjee)

INPUD Users Choice Session The Good the Bad and the Ugly, looked at the employment of active drug users within the drugs treatment field. The speakers talked about the discrimination that active drug users expereince as workers within the field.

While the value of employing drug users is well evidenced through many projects worldwide, there are clearly discriminatory practices still entrenched. The session discussed the barriers still present, many which are due to negative attitudes and negative stereotyping from within the drugs treatment field. The medical model continues to dominate alongside the criminalisation of drug use, which further contributes towards worker inequality. The dominance of abstinence based treatment makes it difficult for ‘user workers’ to gain recognition as equals within the field.

The session called for equality and employment policy to be inclusive of user workers, and instead of being discriminatiory, that it be welfare based, and that workers should not be subjected to pre employment screening for drug use. It is clear that drug users inform the field in ways which professionals without using experience cannot, and that without their/our contribution many initiatives would not have happened. Drug user workers should be treated as equals and paid as such, and those recieving substitute prescribing should be able to work within treatment settings.

Although the involvement of users is established, this needs to go further than user networks, and projects should mandate the positive employment of user workers.

The sessions’ audience were supportive, with questions asked about the potential problems of maintaining boundaries. It was responded that this could be easily dealt with by agency policy, and that it is a misconception that user workers are more likely to break such barriers, than professional staff.

Workers should be employed on their ability to do the job, and policy should be consructed to be inclusive and equal.

Audience feedbackshowed us it was a session that challenged the views of non user workers who had not thought about these issues before, and some found this deeply challenging of thier own attitudes and of their agencies practices, which they feel they should now challenge.

So although all INPUD members are already aware of the value of user workers, the session did much to inform others of the need for a push forward to change policy.

Thanks to Claire Robbins for submitting this blogg

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About Erin

Freelance writer and journalist for the global drug user press
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