In short: I am going to continue to push for reform of drug policies because a friend is likely to die of his addiction problems.
I’ve just come back from a New Year’s Eve festival where we were helping to provide a pill testing service. People who were planning to take substances could come to us and find out what they had. This is probably the number one thing anyone can do to keep people safe at festivals – if you let people know what they have then you enable them to make safer choices. And when some people found that what they had in their hand was a more dangerous substance, then they chose not to take that.
Everyone there could see that it is a great idea – the attendees, the medics, everyone.
So why are we not doing this everywhere that people might use drugs? Coz the law gets in the way of us doing it. I can’t even name that festival for fear of getting them in trouble. And we couldn’t even advertise our services at the festival, we had to go by word of mouth. A lot of people didn’t know we where there so we couldn’t help them.
Well, fuck the law. We were there and we helped people. From what I could tell and from what I’ve been told, the people attending the festival had a great and a safe time.
Feeling like we’ve done a good job, I get home to discover that a friend who I value very highly has overdosed and is likely to die. He had a history of trouble with alcohol and addiction and he didn’t get the professional help he needed to get through. I don’t know the details yet, I don’t know what substances were involved, legal or not, but that doesn’t matter – New Zealand society treats people with alcohol and other drug problems as problems, not as people with problems. We treat people with those problems as less than people and that stops them getting the help they need. It stops them from asking for the help they need. We make judgments about people based on which diseases they have and consider people with alcohol and other problems as less worthy of our help and care than people with other diseases. And that feeds through into politicians who score points by dehumanising people with problems. And that feeds through to the sharp end, where everyone involved in mental health and addiction support says that they are catastrophically underfunded, that there is a vast need for more and more effective treatment for these diseases.
We know that the New Zealand Government’s policies about alcohol and other drugs don’t work. We know that moralising doesn’t save people. We know what does – not moralising but taking a rational and effective approach to reducing the harm from all substances.
So I’m very upset and angry right now and I am going to deal with that by doing exactly what I’m doing – help with substance testing to help people make safer choices and help pushing for changes to policies about alcohol and other drugs.
(Email me if you need to know the person’s name. I want to respect the family’s choice about how to communicate this.)