DDN December 2022 DDN Dec_2022 | Page 6



HIT Hot Topics came back stronger than ever with a message of solidarity on peer-led outreach and a call to redouble action on drug-related deaths and ill health . DDN reports , photography by nigelbrunsdon . com

The stage was set for the first Hit Hot Topics conference for three years – and the tenth anniversary event . Pat O ’ Hare held up a ‘ chill out ’ leaflet from 30 years ago and recalled how HIT ’ s advice on taking ecstasy ‘ caused a lot of fuss ’. Times had changed but the challenges around harm reduction were no less significant . Coming together as a community was so important , said chair Niamh Eastwood of Release , because ‘ it provides us with resilience ’.

Colleen Daniels , public health lead at Harm Reduction International ( HRI ), set the scene by drawing on the Global state of harm reduction report . The last two years had seen a slight increase in uptake of harm reduction interventions , she said . There had been a decrease in injecting but more people taking drugs overall , and both the COVID pandemic and the Ukraine war had had a significant impact on harm reduction services – their availability , accessibility and quality .
People of colour , women , LGBTQI +, migrants and refugees faced additional barriers and it had become obvious that the ‘ war on drugs has worked as a means of racial control ’.
' MASSIVE GAPS ' There were also ‘ massive gaps ’ in prison harm reduction , and barriers to effective therapies such as hepatitis C medication , which was ‘ extraordinarily expensive ’ in some countries . Naloxone , ‘ one of the most cost-effective interventions in public health ’, was still not enough of a priority in tackling the ‘ massive issue ’ of overdose .
The data on mortality and morbidity showed that funding for harm reduction was only 5 per cent of what was needed in low- and middle-income countries . It was a situation affected by an ‘ antiquated colonial top-down approach ’, she said .
‘ We have to look back to look forward ,’ said Peter Furlong from Change Grow Live , who spoke from long-standing personal experience of pioneering harm reduction . ‘ The new drug strategy says we ’ ll have world class treatment system – but what ’ s happened to the evidence ?’ he asked . We ’ d lost the balance of harm reduction , treatment and recovery and the sharp increase in drug-related deaths ‘ comes back to abandoning harm reduction ’.
The purity of drugs had increased , cocaine-related deaths had risen significantly , and Dame Carol Black ’ s review showed that ‘ money alone will not fix this ’. ‘ We have to redesign services to make them more attractive , involving people who use drugs ,’ he said .
‘ We need to make treatment easier to access .’
TACKLING EXCLUSION The need to tackle exclusion became clearer as the day went on . Jesse Bernard , a writer , DJ , researcher and filmmaker talked about three events that had shaped his own experience – being excluded from school , censorship of his music ( drill , a subgenre of rap ), and policing related to drugs .
He learned the hard way that people of colour were treated differently when he was suspended from school , but ‘ nothing happened to the other [ white ] kid ’. There were ‘ school to prison pipelines – if you ’ re kicked out of school , you ’ re more likely to end up in prison ’.
Censorship of black music and criminalisation of artists had ‘ always been there ’, from jazz in the 1910s onwards . Musicians had endured all kinds of suppression including broadcasting bans , shows being cancelled and being forbidden to record . Artists had evaded censorship by inventing new words and slang , which were shared rapidly online .
Mackayla Forde , a poet and academic known as Red Medusa , took up the narrative . Black people had been subjected to violence ,