Drug User Activism and Organising, Nordic Style

Hello fellow drug enthusiasts, here is something you might find interesting!

Ever wondered what drug user organisations actually do? I mean it might seem obvious to some, but to those outside the drugs field (or even some people within it!) it can be quite perplexing. Sitting outside of the traditional NA/AA self help and support groups the last three decades have seen the evolution of the ‘drug user activist’ – people who use/d drugs who politicize, lobby, advocate, agitate, network across the world and yes, help and support as well.  And when I say ‘people who use drugs’ I mean the ‘hardcore’ of the drug scene. Those who were directly affected by the various systems of control and management we have today for the ‘drug user’. Now this could be a whole book in itself but suffice to say, the people rose up.

The rose up for each other, the rose up for themselves, they rose up for their communities and the next generation. And in case one may think that the long term heroin injector that has been through it all could never get it together enough to ‘rise up’ and get political-you are going to be in for a shock when you read the history of the drug user movement. It’s central players have always been the injector. Familiar with at least one dependence (we dont say addict anymore, dependence describes the situation accurately, without the psychiatric baggage and labelling that comes with the word ‘addict’), those agitating for the health and welfare of the drug using community have indeed been through the mill -they know intimately what the issues are -and that is precisely why they fought back. The leaders of our movement, across the world, have experienced the humiliation, degradation and powerless environs of treatment centres, detox’s and rehabs and the often hideous drug ‘group therapy’, fought with and clung desperately to friends and loved ones who couldn’t understand their lives or their choices, and suffered abuse from the powerful; the prison officers, the cops, the social workers, the pimps as well as the brutes and bigots who think junkies are people to be isolated, incarcerated or spat at in the street.

So, from the beginnings of drug user organising which appeared to begin in the Netherlands, during the late 1970’s where a large community of heroin injectors were succumbing to a horrendous outbreak of hepatitis B, the first organised drug user response rose up. Blood to blood transmission was at the heart of the issue, sterile syringes given out to everyone who needed them were the solution. Waiting for the government to act is just too slow when people are dying in front of your eyes and so, not for the last time, junkies took matters into their own hands, acquiring the sterile equipment and distributing it where it was needed. The first needle exchange would emerge from this scene, and the seeds of drug user activism was sown. We (peers) took matters into our own hands to save lives and in doing so found a powerful voice, our own voice, a voice that was essential to the drug debate, a voice that had been missing for decades.  Harm reduction was born on the back of this event and would soon coincide with the urgent need which swept across many cities of the world as the HIV epidemic continued to claim more lives of injecting drug users (amongst the many, many other millions to dies of AIDS over the 1980’s and 90’s.)

These people, our user activists, were at the front end of a viral hell -the hepatitis B epidemic in the late 1970’s in Amsterdam, to HIV during the 1980s, ’90s and onwards, and now Hepatitis C.

The activist from ‘our movement’ – which is your ‘movement’ didn’t give up when they hit a brick wall or achieved the first goal. Many bit the bullet fighting judgement, discrimination, fear and suspicion as they went -supported by some wonderful allies, in all fields of work, from the grassroots to the highest levels, and these individuals have gone on not only to start their own local, national, regional groups and networks, but have come together to formulate INPUD -an organisation to represent drug users at the highest levels. So next time you wonder who are these people, please remember, they are people like you. The person in the street, the person who has experienced today’s drug dependence.

But anyway, until I post a potted history of the drug user movement on this site -which I most certainly will (Jude Byrne from INPUD has written a brilliant one Ill get my hands on for you), Ill keep adding a few bits and pieces. This is one. This is a really well researched article on drug user organising and activism in the Nordic countries; Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland. Ive just returned from visiting The Swedish Drug Users Union who are a truly inspirational organisation run by Berne Stålenkrantz Ill be writing up a piece on them in the next few days.

Until then, please do peruse this interesting document, (34pages) about user organising in the Nordic countries.

See the text below and follow the link to have a read of the document. A scene of some of the best drug user organising in Europe, if not the world, it provides a great insight into our Nordic comrades as they fight to good fight.

(PUD is the new acronym friends, now recognised instead of ‘drug user’ at the United Nations. Thanks to our peers who pushed for that change! Person Using Drugs, or Person who uses Drugs = PUD, unfortunate acronym in a way but it is the terminology that is important to change. It doesnt mean we cant use drug user anymore, I use it all the time, it just means we are directing people to use less demeaning language, as drug user is often associated with. PWID is also a new one on the scene, instead of IVDU (Intravenous Drug User) we now have Person Who Injects Drugs. More dignified and without the baggage, don’t you think? Language can be as restrictive and damaging as it can be liberating and the drugs field is rife with words that come with old baggage and it needs to be updated Note: see INPUD position statements for the one on ‘Terminology’.)

Swedish Drug Users Union Hep C campaign

Swedish Drug Users Union Hep C campaign

Drug User Organizations in the Nordic Countries – Local, National and International Dimensions.  Written by Vibeke Asmussen Frank, Jørgen Anker and Tuukka Tammi  Click here for the doc  This fascinating document (34 pages) is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of drug user self organising in the Nordic countries. Despite the regional closeness, each country (and their respective drug user organisation) faces its own unique concerns regarding drugs and this well researched paper shines a spotlight on the people who it may be said understand it the best -the drug using community itself.  The text follows “the opportunities and challenges that these organizations face in their search for legitimacy and political influence”.  It also draws together the “similarities and differences in national contexts that both support and challenge the existence of drug user organizations, including drug policy, social welfare policy, trends in drug use, and organizational conditions organizations.” Well worth a read if your interested in the past and present of drug user organising, if only because the region houses amongst the best examples of drug user organising in Europe if not the world.


About Erin

Freelance writer and journalist for the global drug user press
This entry was posted in Europe, Injection Drug Use, INPUD, peer education, peer insights, peer involvement, peer support, Regional News & Info, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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