Users Unite Around the Globe in Support of their Russian Peers

New York City Kicked off the global protest on the eve of World AIDS Day, and were followed by 12 other cities

New York City Kicked off the global protest on the eve of World AIDS Day, and were followed by 12 other cities

POST Press Release (please feel free to share this post on your website, but remember to link it back to here! Thanks!)

On World Aids Day, 2011, just a few short days ago, harm reduction organisations led by people who use drugs and supported by the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) gathered outside Russian embassies in cities across the world in the largest ever global show of solidarity by and for people who use drugs.

The protests, entitled ‘Shame Russia Shame’, was directed at Russia’s highly controversial drug policies which are believed to be driving the EEC regions HIV and TB epidemics. Injecting drugs with contaminated equipment is driving Russia’s HIV epidemic, now the fastest growing in the world and it is reflected in the numbers; as many as 80% of new infections are occurring amongst people who inject drugs (PWID), in a total HIV positive population of approx 1.3million. With this in mind, recent projections forecast an additional 5 million people could become infected with HIV in the near future, unless Russia drastically transforms the way it is dealing with its HIV pandemic.

INPUD member Erin O'Mara says Russia's drug policies are 'brutalising'

INPUD member Erin O'Mara says Russia's drug policies are 'brutalising'

Erin O’Mara, (editor of UK’s Black Poppy Magazine and INPUD member) who coordinated the global protest said the human catastrophe unfolding in Russia is almost indescribable in its brutality and neglect.”Russia has more heroin users than anywhere in the world yet because they offer no safe alternatives such as methadone or buprenorphine, and corruption has driven the price of heroin above what many Russian users can afford, new home made concoctions like desomorphine (nicknamed krokodil) are gaining ground, with devastating health consequences for the user”. Erin adds, “To scratch the surface of Russian drug policies, you find some of the most brutalizing policies in the world; where their should be harm reduction, regulation, treatment and support, there is neglect, abuse, imprisonment, disease and death.”

New York City groups Harm Reduction Coalition and Vocal NY, led the first of the World Aids Day demos, reading speeches and presenting a statement of demands to the Russian Embassy, which included the demand for Opiate Substitution Therapies (OST) such as methadone to be both legal and accessible to the 2 million or more injecting drug users in Russia.

Mexico lays its candlelight vigil in memory of those who have died of AIDS.

Mexico soon followed, again on the eve of World AIDS Day, with their protest led by Espolea, an organisation who’s young people delivered their heartfelt candlelight vigil to remember those who have died of AIDS and those with HIV facing so much oppression in the Russian Federation. It was a very generous tribute from our young colleagues in Mexico at a time in the drugs war when they are facing such enormous troubles of their own. (see video below).

As December 1st -and World AIDS Day dawned,  the global domino effect began and cities from Canberra, Edinburgh, Barcelona, Berlin, Bucharest, London, Paris, Porto, Stockholm, Tblisi, Toronto, delivered their protests, and a unified SHAME RUSSIA SHAME rang out in front of Russian Embassies across the world.

Londons' Russian Embassy Protest

Speeches were given and a statement of demands were delivered to the Embassies which included demands to see the introduction of Opiate Substitution therapy (OST) and the scale up of needle and syringe programmes, which although currently funded by outside NGO’s and not by the Russian Government, numbers of services are still shockingly inadequate, with around 50 odd for the entire Russian Federation.

The city of Tblisi also took a brave step and protested outside their Swiss Embassy, which currently stands in for the Russian embassy which has been removed from Georgia for political reasons. Nevertheless, Georgians who have also seen the emergence of the drug Krokodil from across the Russian border were keen to show solidarity with their Russian drug using peers, as history has meant they were very aware of the might of the Russian police forces and their attitudes towards drug users. Georgians took a huge risk protesting in Tblisi but seemed buoyed by recent workshops in drug user organising and empowerment and peerwork with INPUD.

New Vector, in Tblisi in support of their Russian peers, and raising awareness of krokodil

Demonstrators had the special opportunity to read out a letter from Russia, from an INPUD member and drug user activist named Alex, who spoke directly to his peers across the world about Russia’s indifference and the strength he gains from a unified drug using community.

Alex writes: “To my despair, I live in a country where the means don’t justify the ends Where it’s easier to save the lives of healthy people by destroying those who are sick. Where ethics and humanity have given way to contempt and cruelty. Where they evaluate prevention not in terms of possibilities and outcomes but dollars and popularity. I express my deepest gratitude to all of you who share my protest.  For me, World AIDS Day does not exist in Russia. For me World AIDS Day in Russia means white carnations and condolence cards.I’m alive today thanks to your help and your faith in our united strength. I wish us resilient spirits, and that love fills all of our homes. I’m with you today.”

It was an exciting, moving and empowering event for all concerned, however everyone

The white slippers and carnations outside the Russian Embassy in Canberra, Australia

was acutely aware that Russian themselves were simply not safe enough to protest on World AIDS Day, no matter how peacefully. Although this protest had its roots in Moscow in 2009 on International Drug User Day, when 5 Russian activists were arrested after trying to lay red carnations and white slippers (the Russian symbol for the dead) at the steps of the Drug Control Service, the protest expanded on International Remembrance Day 2011. 3 countries took part and (Budapest, Berlin and Barcelona) remembered their peers outside Russian embassies, again laying the symbols of the protest. This world AIDS Day,was a call out to the world that we will not let our Russian peers be forgotten -that we will stand side by side them as we all fight to ensure that Russian citizens have the right to humane, evidenced based, enlightened drug policies and treatment.

For more information and/or quotes from INPUD members and city organisers, please do not hesitate to get in touch with INPUD.

Contact: INPUD Deputy Project Co-ordinatorL eliotalbers@inpud.net who can put you in touch with the right person or answer your questions.

NOTE: A huge thank you to the global coordinators based in London – Women of Substance, Black Poppy Magazine, and Ava Project (London)– -and our partners in Eastern Europe Andrey Rylkov Foundation, Eurasian Harm Reduction Network and all those organisations who took part in this event. INPUD members;  Plataforma Drogologica (Barcelona), Deutsch AIDS Hilfe (Berlin), Harm Reduction Coalition, Vocal NY (New York City) ,ASUD, Cannabis Sans Frontiere (Paris), AIVL, NUAA, CAHMA (Canberra)  CASOP (Porto) Association Intergration (Bucharest),Svenska Brukarforeningen (Stockholm), New Vector (Tblisi), CounterFit (Toronto) Chemical Reaction (Edinburgh) , Espolea (Mexico City)

Advertisements

Georgia joins Global protest

Georgia has joined up with 8 other countries across the world to protest at Russias treatment of people who use drugs, their disastrous policies on HIV, and their banning of OST such as methadone, which is causing outbreaks of home made opiates such as krokodil – which has recently crossed the border into Georgia itself. Georgian’s who suffer from extremely severe penalties for illicit drug use, are turning to home made opiates because of the massive price hike in street heroin. Despite being so close to the Afghan border, the price remains prohibitive for most Georgians simply due to the fact that the penalties for its use and trafficking are so high, thus the price reflects the risk. krokodil is a fraction of the cost -harm reduction info is scarce -the health implications are massive. Georgians will be protesting at the Swiss embassy due to the  fact their is no Russian Embassy currently  in Georgia and the Swiss embassy has taken on the interim role. Go Georgia. Make no mistake – these people are courageous to be coming out and protesting on this issue. Thank you Georgia, we will be demonstrating beside you in solidarity.

 

Russian Embassy Protest – Dec 1st 2011

Stamp of Russia. AIDS 1993, 90 rubles, CPA #?

World Aids day, Dec 1st

On World Aids Day, Dec 1st this year, people will gather outside Russian Embassies and consulates around the world to protest against the brutal and inhumane treatment of people who use drugs in Russia today. This blog will provide an opportunity to post a variety of important, shocking and truthful accounts of what is happening inside Russia today, events in a country that expects to be taken seriously on the world stage, while allowing thousands upon thousands of its citizens to die needlessly of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis, drug overdoses, drug poisonings, and hepatitis C.

It is clear that in Russia today, we are bearing witness to one of the biggest avoidable catastrophes in the history of HIV – the lack of response to the epidemic in Russia. In particular, we must point directly to the special responsibility that Russian medical and public health officials bear for creating and sustaining this disastrous situation.

Methadone and Subutex, have been recognised and listed for years by the World Health Organisation as essential medicines for people dependant on opiate type drugs, and country after country has adopted the evidence based science behind such drug treatment strategies. Russia however, still refuses to acknowledge the huge benefit Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST), meanwhile estimates on the numbers of injecting drug users are growing -1.6-3million people are believed to use drugs -with no access whatsoever to OST such as methadone. Overdose rates stand at around 30,000 per year -that is around 80 mothers, brothers, sisters, and children, dying each and every day. No other country in the world has as many overdoses per head of population, than Russia does today. Why? Because of it’s insistence on using outdated methods to ‘treat’ or simply ignore drug dependence; because it continues to treat people who use drugs as criminals that must be locked away in prison, chained to beds in rehab centres, and stripped of their rights within Russian society. Due to this insistence to ignore the obvious evidence base for harm reduction, an HIV pandemic has exploded across the EEC region, as hundreds and thousands of people become infected with HIV. With extremely limited numbers of needle exchanges available offering sterile syringes to injectors, (all of them funded by NGO’s and not the Russian government), the rate of new infections is set only to grow as rapidly in the future as it has over the last decade.. Currently, eighty per cent of all new HIV infections are in the injecting drug using population, most of which are under 30 years of age and, following the UN office of Drugs and Crime, 40% of Russia’s 1.6million injecting drug users (1) are estimated to be women. Yet the local groups who do manage to provide harm reduction services report as few as one in six of their clients as female. Where are they going for help or support? Answer – They remain off the radar. As NGO’s struggle to fill the huge gaps in services for people who use drugs, poverty, stigma, domestic violence, police harassment, and fear of losing custody of their children are only some of the barriers preventing women who use drugs from seeking medical and counseling services. And, research has shown that if they do come for medical care, they are likely to be denied access or receive substandard services from doctors and nurses who are not trained and not prepared to deal with their issues. Remembering those with HIV/AIDS this World Aids Day Overwhelmingly, women who use drugs do not have access to basic medical care on a regular basis, although they are at a high risk of HIV and other life-threatening illnesses. Drug treatment options are also extremely limited, since drug treatment programs inRussia rarely— if ever— accommodate women with children or pregnant women. Another frequent barrier to care is the requirement that patients present a full set of legal documents— their passport, residence registration, and proof of medical insurance— to receive treatment at AIDS centers. Women and men who use drugs often lack some or all of these papers and thus are denied care. Again, much needed harm reduction programs offer help with residency registration and other documents through legal advocacy. This is the first post in a series that will lead up to World Aids day, and will follow in the footsteps of Russian drug users who took up a protest in Russia on International Drug User Day November 1st 2009, where they attempted to lay flowers and white slippers (a symbol that is put of the coffins of the dead in Russia) on the steps of their embassy. Immediately police rushed out of the building and chased the peaceful demonstrators arresting 5 of them. See link here On  21st July 2011, on International Remembrance Day for people who have died from drugs, the protest expanded again, this time with demonstrators in countries including Spain, Hungary and Germany who also appeared out front of their Russian embassies. All calling for Russia to adopt evidenced based, scientifically sound, cost effective harm reduction and hiv prevention programmes and to stop the human rights abuses of people who use drugs -each and every one who deserves a chance to live a healthy life, free from prison, disease and discrimination. This year on World Aids day, protests will continue again, expanding further, being held in the UK (London), USA (New York), Australia (Sydney, Canberra), France (Marseilles) Romania (Bucharest), Spain (TBC) Canada (Toronto), Sweden (Stockholm) Germany (Berlin). Follow us on FaceBook to find out times and places or stay tuned to this blog (you can subscribe to updates here). (1) UNAIDS, Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, 2010p.38