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)

Protest at Russian Embassies Worldwide: Dec 1st World Aids Day

The Red ribbon is a symbol for solidarity with...

Dec 1st 2011

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. We must point directly to the specific responsibility that Russian medical and public health officials bear for creating and sustaining this disastrous situation. Of particular concern are Russia’s, brutalising drug policies and its recently revised Total War on Drugs, which has resulted in further pushing people who use drugs into hiding, prison, and enforced detention, and severely compromising efforts from the international community to revert the trajectory of HIV/AIDS. The world is approaching a crossroads; a strong and decisive downward trajectory in the epidemic is possible in all countries -but it will only happen if the people who are most vulnerable to infection are supported and their human rights realised. Governments have legal obligations to act. Indeed, the implementation of harm reduction measures is consistant with and required by states obligations under international human rights law. 1,2.

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 1million. With this in mind, recent projections forecast an additional 5 million people could become infected with HIV in the near future, unless Russia transforms the way it is dealing with its HIV pandemic.6

Russian authorities have repeatedly come in for fierce international criticism over their policy towards the treatment of drug dependence, which relies almost completely on the promotion of abstinence to the exclusion of harm reduction.  Russian officials claim, incorrectly, that the effectiveness of opiate substitution therapy (such as providing methadone and buprenorphine) has not been adequately demonstrated, and as such it is prohibited by law. Yet, despite the addition in 2005 of these two drugs to WHO’s list of essential medicines, and multiple position papers by international experts calling for substitution treatment as a critical element in the response to HIV (IOM, 2006; UNODC, UNAIDS, and WHO, 2005), methadone or buprenorphine remain prohibited by law in Russia and promotion of its use – punishable by a jail sentence. With over 30,000 people dying from drug overdoses every year, numbers that can be shown to markedly reduce with the implementation of OST, and 150 becoming infected with HIV each day (2/3rds of which are injecting drug users), also evidenced to drastically reduce with the roll out of Needle and Syringe Programmes (NSP), it is upon everyone who cares about humanity, to demand an immediate transformational shift in Russia’s approach to HIV prevention and its treatment of drug users.  Access to NSP and OST is in itself, a human right;  UN Ruman Rights Monitors have specifically stated harm reduction interventions as necessary for states to comply with the right to health. 5)
Consistent evidence from around the world shows that treatment for opiate dependence works most effectively when the exclusive goal of abstinence is widened to foster multiple outcomes – including reduction in use of illicit opiates, exposures to blood-borne infections such as HIV and hepatitis, reduction in drug overdoses, better management of existing health problems etc. Evidence has repeatedly shown the clear benefits to the individual and society as a whole when drug dependence is viewed as a public health issue, as opposed to a criminal one. Evidence also shows OST, combined with a range of harm reduction measures such NSP, leads to a drastic reduction in the spread of new HIV infections in countries across the globe; none of this more clearly demonstrated today, than in Netherlands, a world leader in harm reduction where in 2010, only ONE injecting drug user contracted HIV. In the UK, another country that has harm reduction at the centre of its HIV prevention strategy, prevalence of HIV amongst drug injectors is at 1.5%, this against a Russian HIV prevalence backdrop of 30-35%. The evidence on harm reduction has been in for years. Why does Russia continue to turn its back?
The Russian government‘s estimated annual expenditure related to drug law enforcement) equal approx 100 million US  dollars. 7. This amount does not include the money spent on detention and imprisonment. In stark comparison, only 20 million US dollars was allocated to HIV and hepatitis B and C  prevention combined, among all population groups in 2011. By 2013, amounts spent will be three times less. Considering the context and tendencies in the development of the HIV epidemic in Russia, clearly such policies are not leading to any positive results. No money at all is allocated towards HIV prevention among the injecting drug using population.6Such punitive and torturous approaches to tackling drug use are not only fuelling the HIV epidemic in the region, but also the stigma, hate and ignorance of drugs, and of people who use drugs.  The insistence by both the Russian government and medical profession to treat drug users as criminals that need imprisonment at worst, and at best – enforced detention, has meant harm-reduction programs, including needle exchange, are officially accused of propagandizing drug use and activists have been arrested, harrassed and imprisoned for promoting harm reduction measures. Demonstrators who have protested and spoken out against the Russian response to HIV/AIDS are also regularly arrested and detained, including HIV positive people calling for access to ARV’s (drugs to treat HIV) and an end to treatment interruption fuelling drug resistant strains of HIV.

This World Aids Day, December 1st 2011, we will echo the urgent voices of Russian drug users who are living and dying in the grip of an HIV and TB pandemic with almost no recourse or chance to engage in or promote an effective response.  . We will gather at Russian embassies around the world to demand Russia to change it current course towards death and disease. We want to see inappropriately aggressive, state sponsored hostility to drug users replaced by enlightened, scientifically driven attitudes and more equitable societal responses” 3 We demand our own countries to apply pressure wherever and whenever they can, voicing publicly our concerns about human rights abuses in the Russian response to drug use and HIV.

Sound, evidenced based and cost effective harm reduction solutions stand at the forefront of what has been shown to effectively prevent HIV infection in the drug using community. The personal narratives of people who use drugs and their allies on the front line of human right struggles must be recognised and remain a key part of today’s growing evidence base. People who use drugs must be seen as central players in the search for solutions rather than being framed and targeted as the problem.
Nothing About Us Without Us  www.inpud.net
Dec 1st at Russian Embassies in London, Stockholm, Berlin, Bucharest, New York, Sydney/Canberra, Spain (?), and Toronto. Dec 1st
 for times and locations follow updates at https://russianembassyprotest.wordpress.com or (add your email/website)

1) UNIDCP Flexibility of Treaty positions as regards harm redcution approaches, decision 74/10 Geneva UN 2002 ,
2) UNODC World Drug Report Vienna 2009
3) Lancet July 2010 HIV in people who use Drugs
4) The right to the highest attainable standard of health; Article 12, comment 14  International Covenent on  Economic, Cultural and Social Rights 2000
5) Barrett D et al;  Harm Reduction and Human Rights, the Global response to drug related HIV Epidemics. London, HRI, 2009
6) News Release, Oct 7th 2011, Risk of HIV Hitting Catastrophic Levels; from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; Eurasian Harm Reduction Network; Harm Reduction International;
7) Articles 228-233 of the Russian Criminal Code

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