On November 1, International Drug Users Day is celebrated around the world hailing the resiliency of people who use drugs against the longstanding war on our lives. While most forms of discrimination have been exposed as social injustices, discrimination against people who use drugs is still seen as justified in the eyes of the law in countries around the world. The War on Drugs has had a horrendous effect globally on human rights, further marginalizing the marginalized and cementing other forms of injustice such as racism and sexism. Yet despite the widespread global discrimination, the community of people who use drugs is stronger than ever in our struggle against injustice. Drug use is a normal part of our society, so let’s make drug policy reform mainstream!
As people who use drugs, we know that societies have always engaged in drug use for a variety of reasons. While mainstream Canadian society discriminates against illicit drug users, the majority of Canadians do use drugs on a daily basis. Drug use is normal in Canadian society, from coffee, to tobacco, to marijuana and other illicit drugs! Canada is among the top ten highest consumers of coffee globally, with the average Canadian drinking 2.8 cups of coffee a day. While smoking has dropped in popularity amongst youth, it is still higher than consumption of Amphetamine-Type-Stimulants such as MDMA:
“In 2012-2013, 4% of students in grades 6 to 12 (approximately 114,000 students) were current cigarette smokers: 2% daily smokers and 2% occasional smokers. The current smoking prevalence (4%) among students in grades 6 to 12 decreased compared to 2010-2011 (6%).”
As a society we consume drugs regularly, but we have developed a successful public health framework to curb the harms of drug use without sacrificing the human rights of people who use drugs. It is time for Canada to apply this framework of controlled access to substances to other drugs such as marijuana and other illicit substances. Unfortunately, while we already have evidence-based tools for curbing drug related harm (such as decriminalization), they are not being implemented. Canadian young people who use drugs are sick of being criminalized, and we stand together in solidarity against repressive laws which waste taxpayer dollars on criminalization. It is time to create a regulatory framework and provide health services to moderate drug related harms.
Today people who use drugs stand together against the War on Drugs which has caused much more harm to youth than drugs themselves. I write this blog post from the United States, where the War on Drugs has increased prison populations to the point where there are more black men in prison than there were slaves before the Civil War. Not only does criminalization reinforce racism, it also makes the health of people who use drugs a non-issue as they are marked as disposable. More Americans die from accidental overdose than car accidents, and Canada is not too far behind as the #2 consumer of opiates globally. Personally, I have lost several friends to overdose over the past year, including SSDP alumnus Daniel Jabbour, and Junior who passed away while I was attending the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.
We have lost way too many lives in this war in North America, both to the prison industrial complex, to overdose and to violence. In Mexico alone we know that over 100,000 people have died due to violence related to the War on Drugs. Young people who use drugs already know what we need to do to end this war: decriminalize people who use drugs and implement a public health framework for drug control, including widespread harm reduction and treatment services. Still, the Canadian government is trying to roll back progress by eliminating evidence-based harm reduction services through Bill C-2, while at the same time taking away medical cannabis patients’ right to grow. While the Harper government continues to neglect the lives of young people who use drugs in Canada, our communities remain resilient in our fight to transform drug policy globally.
We have all the tools we need to end this war. It’s time to take action!
Four co-op students from the University of Toronto 3rd year Pharmacology course are creating info pamphlets on various drug education, supervised consumption sites, and other harm reduction topics. A CSSDP general info pamphlet is also being finalized by other members. These resources and more will become available on the website in the coming months. Toronto members are also gearing up to host the upcoming 7th Annual National Conference, “A Rising Revolutions: Drug Policy Reform Around the World” held February 27th – March 1st at University of Toronto. Join their meetings or email us to help with the conference or other initiatives!
University of Windsor
We only just became a ratified club so our membership is small but we are very excited about what we are starting here on campus! We are currently working with the University of Windsor Research Ethics Board and faculty on campus to create an anonymous online survey in order to determine what, if any, services students feel they need to reduce harm with regards to substance use on campus and where the gaps in knowledge and services are. It is our hope that by working with the Ethics Board and staff our data will be empirically valid and useful as an aid in arguments for essential services in the future.
Our second initiative is to create a pilot drug education presentation for high school students in order to give them realistic and evidence based harm reduction information. We are also reaching out to associations which already provide harm reduction around the community in order to understand where there are gaps in knowledge, services or awareness within the regional culture towards substance use. To make all of this happen we will definitely be reaching out within our campus in order to increase our membership as well. Exciting? Yes!!!
This semester, members of CSSDP-SFU have been collaborating to create Karmik, a new night-life and harm reduction organization in Vancouver. Karmik is headed up by former CSSDP-SFU Vice President Margaret Yu, as well as current CSSDP-SFU Co-Chair (and member of the CSSDP’s National Board) Alex Betsos, and their other co-worker Munroe Craig. The team volunteer their time training volunteers and working at events in the community.
This year CSSDP-SFU established a volunteer community to help promote harm reduction in the night-life scene and also piloted their pill testing program. CSSDP-SFU lends out a pill testing kit to students and non-students alike in order to help people in Vancouver make informed decisions about the drugs they are consuming.
“Our belief in better drug policy informs our practice on safer drug use,” says Alex. “Ultimately, while CSSDP does not condone drug use based on its current illicit nature, we also want to make sure that if people are going to be using drugs that they do so with as much information about what they are taking as possible.”
Last November, I attended CSSDP’s National Conference in Vancouver, where I did a presentation on drug analysis, describing different methods of analysis and how they can be an effective tool for reducing the harms of drug use. I discovered while preparing for this presentation that common drug-analysis reagents, which can be used as rough tests to distinguish drugs from each other, could be manufactured easily and inexpensively. I also found out that most of the reagent-test kits available online were more expensive than what I considered to be reasonable. Those facts bounced around my head for a while, and I eventually decided that I should act upon them by making my own kits and selling them at a more accessible price. This led to the creation of Betelgeuse Labs, a company co-run by me and by my business partner, Dashiel Siegel.
On the weekend of October 25, we finished acquiring the necessary chemicals and other materials to produce our first batch of Marquis reagent kits (Marquis reagent is commonly used to identify MDMA and distinguish it from compounds with similar pharmacological properties, such as methylone). Dashiel and another friend of mine, Richard Vicente, were given permission to set up a harm reduction booth at a large rave in Montreal on October 25. The booth offered free drug checking to rave attendees and stocked the Marquis kits at a reasonable price. In addition, it offered magnesium pills at 50 cents each (magnesium is known to reduce the uncomfortable jaw-clenching that can occur while under the effects of MDMA and other stimulants). We hope to continue offering this harm reduction service at raves going forward, and are working on adding more materials to the booth, such as educational pamphlets. We will soon have the Marquis reagent kits available for purchase online. To keep track of the progress of our company, please follow our Facebook Page!
The SSDP UOIT/Durham chapter has been really busy making an impact in their school and community. Currently they are working on filing a motion to have good samaritan policies instituted on their campus. Durham is also hosting fundraisers for their chapter, the national board, and a local harm reduction program this semester. On St. Patrick’s day they will be hosting a harm reduction event. Durham is also hoping to take part in Social Justice Week on campus, as well as to host their second annual benefit concert “[Safe] Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll.”
In addition to all of this they are planning a sidewalk chalk campaign which involves creating chalk outlines of bodies containing statistics regarding deaths/harms due to the drug war. The CSSDP National Board would like to give a shout out to the UOIT/Durham Chapter for the amazing work they’ve been doing. You’re awesome, thanks for standing up for the cause!
Does your chapter need money for early semester events to increase awareness and attract new members? Are you a newly established or establishing chapter needing start-up funds?
Click here to apply now for the CSSDP Chapter Grants Program!