We remember -and we are angry.
This is a letter sent by INPUD’s Exec Director Eliot Albers, to the Peruvian Ambassador following the deaths of 27 people in a‘rehab’ facility in Lima. The facility, unregulated and highly questionable in its approach to treatment, is believed to have locked people inside rooms as a matter of course, and it was where they perished when a fire broke out. One can only imagine the terror felt by those inside during the last minutes of their lives, the screams and the panic. This torturous anguish will be only be equalled by the grief and guilt felt by the parents and loved ones who probably had been duped into paying money to keep their loved ones in, what they now know fully to be, such cruel conditions. Sadly, as Eliot’s letter illustrates -this is not the only instance of a massacre in a rehab, occurring because we are accepting people being ‘treated’ by being locked in, chained to beds, prevented from leaving (so called voluntary centres) by double bolted steel doors etc –believing others know best and that a tough approach is the only cure for wayward addicts. There is no thought as to fire hazards or emergency access in such places -and all the while they are taking money from and placating terrified parents, that, yes, your children are in safe hands. Safer here than on the streets, at least you’ll know they are safe in their beds tonight….And the metal doors slam, and the bolts lock ‘em in tight, as inmates at these ‘voluntary’ centres press their ears to the wall to listen out for the echoes, for the crackling and spitting sounds of fire, edging its way up the hall…More peers we now grieve for. How many more will die like this before we demand people with drug problems seeking treatment deserve the same standard of care as everyone else?
Sent: February 3, 2012 10:48 AM
Letter to the Peruvian Ambassador
Your Excellency I am writing to you as Executive Director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) on behalf of my membership. We are recognized by the UNODC, UNAIDS and other multilateral bodies concerned with illegal drugs and health issues as the peak international NGO representing this often highly stigmatized community. A substantial proportion of our membership fall into that category of the drug using population who are most likely to seek help should their drug use become problematic, they often live on the fringes of society and are frequently subject to human rights abuses, and subsequently significant threats to their health and well-being. The stigma and discrimination directed at this sector of the population enables a climate in which sub-standard, and in the case that prompts me to write to you, lethal treatment can flourish.
27 dead – ‘A Clarion Call’
Sunday’s tragic fire at Lima’s ‘Christ is Love’ facility which resulted in 27 deaths is a clarion call to the Peruvian government to take a long hard look at the quality standards, or lack thereof, under which many such private sector facilities operate in Peru. We note that this problem is not limited to Peru, but that similar lethal fires in erstwhile treatment centres for people who use drugs in which ‘patients’ have been kept chained and behind bars have also been documented in Russia, and lethal abuses of human rights committed by the staff of such establishments have occurred in India.
Milton Rojas from the Peruvian drug abuse and prevention group CEDRO estimates that only 20% of Peru’s facilities for drug treatment have licences and trained staff. According to your own Health Minister, Alberto Tejada “[t]his rehabilitation centre wasn’t authorised. It was a house that they had taken over … for patients with addictions and they had the habit of leaving people locked up with no medical supervision”.
“This rehabilitation centre wasn’t authorised. It was a house that they had taken over … for patients with addictions and they had the habit of leaving people locked up with no medical supervision” Alberto Tejada, Peruvian Health Minister
Told to Close – Yet Still operating?
The fact that this sort of ‘treatment’ is so widespread in your country is an affront to human dignity and a clear breach of the human right to the highest attainable standard of health, one that is only compounded by the revelation that the ‘Christ is Love’ facility had been investigated on two previous occasions and been told to close, yet still continued to operate. Keeping people seeking help when their drug use has become problematic behind bars and chained up is a breach of the inalienable right to “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health [that] is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…” enshrined in the constitution of the World Health Organisation, and guaranteed by article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Peru has both signed and ratified. These two documents enshrine a rights based approach to health that is clearly being breached by the enforced detention and chaining practised in the ‘Christ is Love’ facility.
INPUD Calls for Review of Drug Treatment Facilities
Furthermore, Article 1 of the Peruvian Constitution states that the “defense of the human person and respect for his dignity are the supreme purpose of society and the State”, this standard should also be met by the private treatment sector , and applies as much to people who use drugs as it does to any other sector of the population.
Whilst we welcome the fact that the owner of the clinic, Mr. Raul Garcia Albornoz and two others have been charged with homicide we call upon the Peruvian Government to take this opportunity to ensure that all facilities offering treatment to people experiencing problems with their drug use in Peru be reviewed, that the unlicensed ones be closed down, and that science based, human rights compliant responses to problematic drug use be scaled up and made universally available to those who need them in Peru.
INPUD Calls to Meet with Representative at CND
I will be present in Vienna in March for the Commission on Narcotic Drugsand would very much welcome the opportunity of talking to your representative about finding means of ensuring that the treatment offered to people seeking help with their problematic drug use meet the highest standards, and are both human rights compliant and based on the best scientific evidence (this is often referred to as the ‘comprehensive package for responding to HIV among people who inject drugs’ and includes nine interventions that should be available to injecting drug users). Deadly fires have also occurred in facilities similar to the ‘Christ is Love’ centre in other countries including Russia; perhaps, Sunday’s tragic events can be used to spur Peru to take the lead on stamping out such malpractice worldwide, an initiative that we would be more than happy to discuss with your representative in Vienna.
Your sincerely Dr Eliot Ross Albers, PhD
Executive Director International Network of People who Use Drugs
- Peru’s health minister vows crackdown in wake of deadly rehab fire (news.blogs.cnn.com)
- Peru drug rehabilitation centre blaze kills at least 20 – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)
- VIDEO: Peru rehab centre fire kills 26 (bbc.co.uk)