Avoid fuelling 'userphobia'

April 5, 2000

MELBOURNE — It was very pleasing to read in GLW #398 two articles related to the insane drug war that has resulted from the global prohibition of certain drugs.

I am a peer educator who has been working intimately with mainly "illicit" drug users for the past six years. In that period there has been a dramatic increase in the use of illegal drugs in Melbourne.

As Marina Carman ("Sex, drugs and our right to choose" in Resistance magazine) pointed out, this is in part attributable to the declining social conditions in Victoria (in the last decade, government expenditure has been increased in law enforcement and administration and cut dramatically in social welfare).

However, it is also important to recognise the increasing number of people, young people in particular, who are choosing to use illegal drugs as one aspect of their lifestyle.

For many users I have worked with, accurate and relevant drug education complements their drug use, rather than acting as a deterrent. In this way, the goal of harm minimisation has been successful.

Carman's comments on changes that need to be implemented need some fine tuning. First, in relation to heroin trials, it is important to note that the trials would be a feasibility study that, if successful, would lead to the implementation of larger, more comprehensive programs given the high incidence of opiate dependence.

Secondly, the term "safe shooting galleries" is one that progressive people should be trying to counter; it is a misleading slang word that has been embraced by the corporate media in its denigration of harm-minimisation proposals. The terminology proposed by harm-minimisation workers is "safer injecting facilities".

"Safer" is used because injecting drugs will never be completely safe while prohibition, and the black market it fosters, still exist. This creates uncertainty about drug purity. "Injecting facility" is used because the site will not be a haphazard, blood-soaked den of sin where people are allowed to do as they please — an image that the mainstream media has instilled in the population.

What will emerge, if governments provide proper support, is a closely monitored facility providing injecting drug users with a medically approved environment in which they can carry out what is essentially a medical procedure. Qualified medical staff will supervise what happens and users will enter the facility because they choose to.

The result, as has been seen in Europe, will be less people suffering overdoses, less street drug use and contact with users which would not otherwise have been possible because of users' fear of the medical establishment.

Terminology has been a major issue in the struggle against "userphobia": the anti-people establishment has used language as one of its weapons in the right-wing crackdown on drug users. For too long, users have been classified as evil, afflicted addicts who are sub-human.

In reality, drug users of all persuasions are human beings who have the same rights as any other person. I urge progressive activists to inform themselves about the realities of drug use under capitalism because the drug war is waged very much on the level of misinformation.


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