People who use drugs, especially their often-problematic counterparts, are given a bad name. Here in the United States, a campaign against drugs and drug users alike has been going strong for some 100 years — if not longer.
We’ve been painted as — especially non-White and otherwise-disadvantaged people — “dirty junkies” by much of society for quite some time. Not very cash money, is it? This veil of being inherently bad — stigma, in other words — has directly made drug-related problems worse; because of it, we fail to deal with them effectively: criminalizing drug use or policing drug-related activity in general just doesn’t work.
On the other hand, drug users often give themselves a bad name — admittedly, I’ve made people who use drugs look bad countess times over my decade-long, ongoing career as a regular drug user. I still make us look bad today at times, even though I try to use responsibly — a relatively new development in my decade-long drug-using career.
That’s What Drug Users’ Unions Are For
Drug user unions (DUU) — or “drug users’ unions,” since they’re both for and by drug users — can make themselves and, by extension, drug users look bad by inappropriately and excessively exposing such problem drug use to the public or by not being well-organized. For example, I looked at one well-known union that was reviewed by multiple people as bad because, at a protest or other public event, members couldn’t tell others what they were lobbying for or why.
I can’t say this without recognizing that DUUs can certainly imprint material, lasting outcomes in the arenas or spaces they’re advocating for fair drug user treatment in — and that’s something they often do.
Overall, the net positive done by modern drug user unions is unarguably beneficial to drug users as a whole, both current and future.
Being Badly Organized Hurts
If you look online for drug user union reviews, you’ll find reports of DUU members as being unable to tell others what, exactly, they were advocating for or why.
Although the idea that drug users should be given equal social footing is reasonable to understand, people are less likely to support drug users’ rights if members at protests or other public showings fail to sufficiently explain their purpose or reasoning.
Outsiders may feel that drug user union members, especially those who struggle to articulate solid reasoning in explaining themselves, simply want drugs to be legalized so they can use without repercussion.
We need to best appeal to opponents of drug users’ rights. How can we do that — by handing them shining examples of drug users living up to the “junkie” stereotype on a silver platter?
The vast majority of all drug consumers don’t often, if ever, exhibit problematic drug use. Very few of us fit the bill of “long-term, often-problematic drug users,” a term I use to describe myself.
Although we harm reductionists know this to be true and use this talking point — that few drug users actually experience serious negative consequences as a result of their drug use — in advocating for our cause, we can’t afford to run the risk of being perceived this way (read: perceived).
To best represent ourselves, I feel like we may benefit from putting our most-prepared, least-likely-to-make-drug-users-look-bad members on the front lines; in other words, every time drug user unions potentially show themselves to the public, they should be careful to avoid revealing anything that could reflect on harm reduction or its practitioners negatively.
Are Drug User Unions Worth Their Salt?
Again, drug user unions positively contribute to our shared cause of promoting equal treatment of people who use drugs, especially their often-problematic counterparts.
So, yes, drug user unions are most definitely worth their weight in salt.
However, we stand to lose footing or hold back our full potential in advancing harm reduction when drug user unions are poorly organized and their operations aren’t well-planned. I feel like we often don’t consider the public relations aspect of drug user advocacy.
Drugs cause us to feel different, lose inhibition, and impair our motor skills. When combined with long-unmet needs, which often serve as the basis for addiction, drug use can decay into problematic drug use that reflects poorly on all of us.