‘We have been effective at reducing the
risks associated with injecting drug use
and developing interventions which
deliver some of the most cost-effective
health interventions of any kind.‘
does happen and it absolutely should not. So many drug services now have staff
covering the needle and syringe programme who do not have the required
knowledge, skills or even, in some cases, the appropriate attitudes to engage with
some of the most marginalised and vulnerable people in our society.
In this environment, good quality harm reduction cannot happen and we have
little hope of reducing or ending the harms and social isolation of drug users until
there is enough political will to develop a drug policy which truly reflects the value
of human life. Naloxone is not the answer to saving the lives of people who use
drugs. Harm reduction is, of which naloxone is one important component.
THE PROPER SUPPORT
A NEED FOR VISION
Developing Health & Independence (DHI), a West of England
based social exclusion charity are marking their 20th anniversary
this year with The Vision Project. This series of articles, podcasts
and events is exploring the question of how they can achieve
their vision to ‘end social exclusion by ensuring that everyone
has their basic needs met and is able to thrive by contributing to
the richness and wellbeing of their community’. All articles and
podcasts can be found at www.dhi-online.org.uk/vision-project
and you can sign up to get latest updates on the project at
We must celebrate the commitment and compassion of those who work in our field
and properly educate, train, mentor and support them. This doesn’t have to cost the
earth – it’s not a financial issue, it’s a cultural one. In a world increasingly
dominated by pharmacy provision of syringes, we appear to have forgotten how to
like and respect people who use drugs. If we lack positive enthusiasm and
optimism, what right do we have to expect this in others?
Services must properly support our amazing colleagues to once again create the
culture of acceptance and engagement, save more lives and improve the health of
people who inject drugs. We need to reimagine how harm reduction can work in
this austere climate and, yes, maybe this also means we need to rediscover a new
style of activism to once again make a difference by keeping people who inject
drugs alive and well.
We must also engage with our communities in a way that encourages them to
reframe their understanding of drugs and the people who use them. We have to
challenge attitudes and break down the barriers that prevent society from feeling
compassion, understanding and acceptance for people who make life choices that
can carry risk.
We accept people who make life choices that lead to heart disease, diabetes,
respiratory disease and cancer, yet condemn people who inject drugs for ‘wasting
precious health resources’ .
This health inequality is perverse and is perpetuated by a political policy which
continues to classify people who inject drugs as criminals, fails to support harm
reduction and does nothing to challenge society’s perpetual exclusion of people
with genuine health needs. In the absence of any political will to address this, our
only hope is that the field can become activists once more and bring about the
change we need.
We did it before; we can do it again.
Nick Wilson is from Exchange Supplies, a social enterprise specialising in harm
reduction equipment. The Vision Project published this piece on 28 July to coincide
with World Hepatitis Day.
September 2019 | drinkanddrugsnews | 7