Drink and Drugs News DDN December 2018 | Page 12

Harm reduction The theme of this year’s Hit Hot Topics conference was ‘The Road Ahead’. As each speaker began to explore the theme, it became obvious that we needed to talk about the obstacles in our way. Pics by Nigel Brunsdon DrivingChange D rug law enforcement was bound to be at the top of the agenda for a conference that cares passionately about harm reduction. While drug use was ‘ubiquitous, right across the population’, drug law enforce ment was ‘a tool for social control’, said Niamh Eastwood, executive director at Release. Furthermore, it had before a weapon against the poorest and most vulnerable, designed to ‘push people out there’. ‘We have to call out the “othering” of people in society,’ she said. ‘We have to end criminal sanctions for people in possession of drugs’ and instead look at helping them back up into housing and stability. Writer and researcher Imani Robinson asked us to think about the world we were born into. ‘We’re taught to give our trust and to normalise particular things. We believe what is told to us about drugs,’ she said. ‘Think about a time when you felt safe. Did anyone think about police, prisons and surveillance? Yet this is the narrative – that we need these things to feel safe. We normalise these ideas.’ The narrative had become contaminated with racism – not just structural racism, but internal racism, where you are ‘born into a world that tells you are better’ – ‘a whole system of power and privilege’. ‘You can’t talk about drug policy reform without talking about racial justice because they are the same,’ she said, and there was much to do on every level. ‘Myths are used to tell children they’re going to die if they take drugs. We act as if this is real, and that punishment is the best approach to deal with harm and violence.’ To make any progress we needed to take ‘a level of stepping back and realising who we are’. Neil Woods, chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP UK) 12 | drinkanddrugsnews | December/January 2019 brought particular experience to the argument for urgent drug law reform. As a former undercover drugs detective sergeant, he had come across corruption driven by the drugs black market ‘a great deal’ within the police force – of which the public knew little. The only way to change the shape of this market was to accept the need for a radically different approach. ‘At the beginning of the 1960s there was no organised crime related to drugs,’ he said. ‘If people had a problem they got help, and there was no association with theft. We’ve gone from the prescription pad to the hand grenade.’ A high proportion of drug crime was driven by people who used heroin – ‘so the logic of using heroin-assisted treatment is that you take half of the market from organised crime, just like that.’ County lines were mainly about the heroin market, ‘so if you prescribe heroin you take away half of the market that drives child exploitation,’ he said. Woods believed we needed to be bold in our actions, adding ‘history will judge society in the same way as we judge slavery or the treatment of homosexuality.’ ‘Prohibition lies need to be exposed and challenged,’ said researcher and activist Julian Buchanan, who built the case for a human rights approach. ‘There’s never been a global drug problem, but a global drug policy problem,’ which needed to be confronted, he said. Our attitudes and prejudices were built on a ‘social construct’. ‘Drug free’ didn’t exist because ‘we all use drugs’. Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and sugar had ‘become the components of every social event’ and as state-approved substances, were ‘untouchable’. The idea of banning drugs was based on ‘propaganda and racism’. www.drinkanddrugsnews.com