For this years Support Don’t Punish, we asked young people who use drugs around the world; ‘What does Support Don’t Punish Mean to You?’. We produced a video to share our advocacy message for the day, Support Don’t Punish For Us.
Use the english subtitles for the various languages – they are accurate!
We also captured young people who use drugs contexts around the world and how the drug laws and policies in their country impact youth.
A Lebanese young person who use’s drugs (YPWUD) stated that the biggest challenge for YPWUD in their country is harm reduction around chemsex, and that the only harm reduction services available for YPWUD are ran by charities. To them, Support Don’t Punish means do no harm.
In Scotland the biggest challenge YPWUD face is the backward prohibition laws criminalising vulnerable people who require public-health oriented drug policies e.g. no safe consumption sites, difficulty accessing opioid substitution therapy (OST) etc. Severe lack of harm reduction information or services contributing to ever-increasing drug-related death rate. This is an issue particularly acute in Scotland which has the highest drug-related death rate in Europe.
The impact that the political context (laws around drug use, political unrest, and politics etc.) has on YPWUD is significant in Scotland aswell because pragmatic approaches by Scottish government to tackle the issue are constantly undermined as a result of our membership of the United kingdom insofar as progressive policy initiatives, e.g. for safe consumption sites, are consistently blocked by Westminster Tory government. Issue is highly politicised by Westminster and there is a sense that they actively oppose any policy shift in Scotland as the drug deaths are a useful political stick with which to beat the Scottish government and discredit the SNP (“look at how they are failing the Scottish people, this is a scandal of their own making, how could they be trusted to run an independent Scotland with this track record?” etc.), despite the SNP/Green coalition in Scotland’s best efforts to make radical changes to drug policy, which is a reserved power (meaning drug policy powers are reserved to Westminster). On the contrary, independence would provide a massive opportunity to design more compassionate, public health-oriented drug policies which appear to have broad support among the Scottish people.
There are very few harm reduction services for YPWUD in Scotland. There is a free laboratory drug testing service called Wedinos who you can send samples to and they will upload the result online to show what substances were actually present in the sample. We also have The Loop, who offer free on-the-spot drug testing services at some music festivals across the UK, but they are relatively small and unlikely to be present at any given festival. Naloxone is fairly easily obtainable through approved charities e.g. Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, but few people even know this and as such very few carry it. As mentioned above, OST difficult to access for many.
United States of America:
In the USA, stigma and access to quality, affordable treatment are the biggest challenges for young people who use drugs.
The United States’ ongoing “War on Drugs” has failed people who use drugs on many levels, but perhaps the most damaging and impactful has been the emphasis on punishment over treatment. While this applies to the population as a whole, growing up with this culture (for example D.A.R.E in schools and the taught perception of users as criminals) has made it challenging for young people to feel safe enough to seek help for those of us who develop problematic substance use at a young age.
While some harm reduction services exist, they can be challenging for young people to access. Services that provide needle exchange, MAT, and narcan are largely targeted to an adult population, and don’t often address barriers young people face. Addiction medicine providers who works with adolescents can be few and far between, and services are often expensive.
“Support Don’t Punish” means providing the appropriate support for users, removing stigma from drug use, and ultimately meeting people where they are in their journey that doesn’t involve legal or moral reprimanding.