The human rights of drug users have too often been the casualty of drug policies. Those who find themselves on the wrong side of such policies are often forced underground which is a barrier to accessing to harm reduction programmes such as needle syringe or exchange facilities that are an imperative in an era of HIV and AIDS.
Harsh and punitive drug laws have criminalised drug users by incarcerating them rather than treating addiction as the health issue it is, and providing professional health care to support abstinence or reduction. The right to health includes access to appropriate services without recrimination. The human right of an injecting drug user is to be able to seek treatment without fear of discrimination or experiencing the stigma associated with drug use.
Needle Syringe/Exchange Programmes and Safe Injecting Rooms provide harm minimisation support in that clean syringes, swabs and sterilised injecting fluids are freely available. Safe Injecting Rooms provide a safe environment for injectors that :
(a) keeps them from injecting in public places
(b) allows them access to medical staff
(c) provides a non-judgemental environment in which to discuss their drug-related issues if they choose to do so
It is in these programmes that many find the encouragement to start addressing their drug use. For some it is a long road back to a life free from the bondages of addiction. Others experience years of struggle with their drug of choice while a third group may never find be drug free.
I understand that not everyone feels the same on this matter and neither can we. Our experiences of family members, either affected by their own drug use or as a victim of some ne else’s drug use, makes it difficult to find agreement on whether providing safe practices for injecting drug users is an appropriate way in which to discourage such practices. My view is that while people continue to choose to inject there is an obligation to provide them, through the health care system, with the means to do so safely and under supervision if necessary.