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“You call each other junkies, so why can’t we adopt the jargon?” our Youth RISE adventures in the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health Conference

“Aren‘t these simply cases of bad police practice that you have just presented?“ asks an audience member at the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health conference after the Youth RISE International Coordinator speaks about encounters among police and young people who use drugs from across the world. As the question implies, were we presenting rare, dramatic stories of police harassment and use of violence and intimidation? Unfortunately, no. In many regions of the world where Youth RISE continues to work, frequent police brutality towards young people who use drugs continues to be reported: Pakistan, Indonesia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Georgia, Nepal, Ghana, Zimbabwe… you name it!

Youth RISE took part in the conference with two tasks on mind: to consult stakeholders, most of them police, on the guidelines we are currently developing (Guidelines for police on working with young people who use drugs) and get their feedback, and to lead a session on Harm reduction services for young people who use drugs and the role of law enforcement. Neither of these turned out to be easy.

Developing global guidelines means reflecting a wide scale of needs and an even wider one of cultural differences. The “ police should work professionally and ethically“ guideline might be classified as a “common sense“ by some countries, while others may ask to indicate things in a “clearer manner”, including such points as “Police should not use physical force when it is not necessary“. Avoiding age profiling in stop and search practices may be seen as implied in the statement about the professional work of police, whereas other stakeholders may express their wish for it to be a separate point in the guideline. “So how do we make it useful to everyone? What are our next steps to have these guidelines adopted?” these questions were the ones to puzzle us as we collected feedback from 100 stakeholders in the room.

The conference was not attended by many representatives of the community of people who use drugs and Youth RISE remained the only community organisation to hold a session. We talked about police violence towards people who use drugs in Pakistan, the use of young people who use drugs by police as tools to extort money from the youngsters’ families in Indonesia, about widespread intimidation in police practices and age profiling in Lithuania and the rest of Eastern Europe and other problems in many other countries across the globe. We touched upon harms on youth caused by high visibility policing (such as sniffer dogs) and the need of trauma informed policing. We tried to not only stick to voicing problems of young people who use drugs but review the possibilities of change and the current use of good practices building a better understanding among young people. Although these were not abundant and pessimism prevailed, the messages turned to be invaluable to the conference as a whole: our sessions balanced out some overly Belarus-dictator-like presentations from police themselves, declaring in most self-confident tone of a “Malborough” commercial how great everything back home in their states was and no problems ever existed.

Youth RISE may also have been the only ones to face recommendations to “treat” drug use among spoiled young people who use drugs by the employment of community service, explanations of age profiling as “means to ensure young peoples’ who use drugs own safety “ and arguments in defence of the inadequate language used by police “because you call each other junkies, so why can’t we adopt the jargon?”. Each and every time we learn and can be better prepared to counter the misconceptions, myths and stigmatising views. Every time we have an opportunity to provide food for thought to those defending prohibition.

Having returned from Toronto and looking back we can say, that participation in the 4th Law Enforcement and Public Health conference was immensely valuable to Youth RISE. This was a unique and incredibly enriching opportunity to see the situation form another, opposite side of barricades, to feel that not all police officers are villains, and to say that not all young people who use drugs are spoiled little f*ckers. Cooperation can really be achieved!

The courtesy of Jurek Badman

Drug policies of the 21st century remain focused on repressive approaches in most of the world’s countries. This can make it harder, if not impossible, to progressively intervene regarding psychoactive substance use, preventing possible benefits to public health. Results of more than half a century of repressive (although slightly milder currently in the Czech Republic) policies do not show themselves to be effective. In fact, it’s the opposite. Experts specializing in harm reduction have been calling for more liberal policies for years. Combined with access to verified information and a unified prevention system, they believe such policies would lead to general reduction of problems associated with substances classified as psychoactive – these include the criminalization of users and of possession, substance impurities, and a lack of available harm reduction services. Trust in the state apparatus regarding this issue allows the users to behave responsibly, consult their use and not endanger themselves or others with risky behavior.

If we take a rational look at the topic, we need to admit that there are people around us who use mind-altering substances. These people use them despite the illegality or possible negative impact on their mental or physical health. The “products” they are using are non regulated, black market “goods” very often “labeled” as something it actually is not. The substances’ potential negative effects are not the only way in which the users can harm themselves. Black market psychoactives are not subject to any regulations and are often made with the use of amateur processes and equipment. It comes as no surprise that these products often contain not only the active ingredient itself, but also contain other admixtures, fillers or left-over chemicals needed for production. These can often have worse effects on human health than the actual psychoactive substance. In some cases, application of such undesirable elements might have fatal consequences. Replacing one substance with another can also be dangerous – with the devastating fentanyl epidemic in the US being living proof. Substance analysis programs give an opportunity to take responsibility for own actions in regards of at least knowing what you are using. 

Ask yourself, would you drink beer from a bottle without a label? Would you take the risk of, say, methanol being in there?

Samples from the “on set testing” / The courtesy of Jurek Badman

Drug Czeching 

In the Czech Republic legal issues forced the closure of the substance analysis program almost ten years ago. Currently, the question of potential support of such programs had been brought up by the National Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction. Inspired by good practice from abroad, based on evidence, government buddies are discussing (behind the closed doors) how to possibly implement this approach into our pedantic system?

The Youth RISE Czech team had decided to call for a public forum/discussion on the International Day of Drug Abuse (26.6. 2018), and the Support. Don’t Punish campaign, so this topic could be openly discussed in a safe and not conflicted space. The invitation was accepted by the head of National Monitoring Centre MUDr. Viktor Mravčík, head of the National Anti-drug Central Mgr. Jakub Frydrych, head of the 3rd Faculty of Medicine, pharm. Magdalena Šustková, drug policy/harm reduction consultant of the municipality in Brno Mgr. Jakub Černý and two foreign guests pharmacologist from Germany pharm. Tibor Harrach and drug policy activist and Youth RISE Mexico coordinator Brun González.

The public forum called “Drug Czeching“, aimed to introduce the aforementioned topics to the greater public. We believed that the time had come to address this topic and give space to experts and people with various perspectives to discuss it publicly.

The main question was clear: Can we, together, find a way to safely and implement approaches which had been proven effective abroad already?

The whole discussion was recorded and soon will be available to your own consideration.

 

 

 

 

 

Youth RISE intervention at CND 2017

Who are we Really Protecting?

If we are to address the issue of meaningful youth participation in the design of drug policy and programming/implementation of health services, using a peer-to-peer model is effective for training & capacity-building needs in youth advocacy endeavours within this realm. Youth advocates need collective, self-reflective inquiry in order to engage in creating solutions for their own social situations. This document is designed as an international advocacy tool to foster and co-ordinate better systems of support for youth-led advocacy involvement at national, regional, and international levels. Continue reading

Having an insight into the setting, Villa Maraini (Rome, Italy), which one might say is a “paradise for people who use drugs”, would help to understand the context in which a 3-day study tour for harm reduction workers, organised by EHRN, took place in mid-November. The foundation was established by Massimo Barra under the Italian branch of the Red Cross and offers various programs for people who use drugs, especially problematic heroin users. The Villa, placed in the centre of a beautiful garden and park provides various services such as methadone substitution therapy, health clinic, therapeutic community, drop-in shelter, HIV/HCV test point, etc. This year, Villa Maraini celebrated 40 years of harm reduction activities. Continue reading