Sunday, 5 December 2010

Black Poppy has moved blog

Black Poppy has moved its blog to wordpress at the link above.
We are also on Face Book under Black Poppy Publications
You can also follow us on twitter at #blackpoppymagaz and receive a mini Black Poppy Gazette every day covering all the lastest news and links from the world of drugs and drug culture.
See you there!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Black Poppy is re-vamping up its place in cyberspace

Stay tuned - over the month of October 2010, BP will be reforming its BP's website (currently being updated), adding a FaceBook page, and keeping our readers more updated on our blog.

We have a new issue about to go to the printers - we are just trying to get a little bit more money together (please subscribe or donate!) for publication.

The next issue is full of the usual bang up to date, interesting and useful articles and stories on a range of issues affecting the drug using community - and those who work alongside them.
Don't forget to subscribe to our blog (top left button), comment on what articles and issues you'd like to see or discuss with us and check out our recommended links - and of course our new website as it evolves this month.

Can't wait to finally get it updated after all this time! We have had some bugs in our website and it has been really difficult to try and fix it so sadly it has been sitting there looking very out of date - as are a few of our articles these days. But we are on the mend!

Any thoughts, views, offers of help or donations would be very much appreciated.
Feel free to copy and BP material - but do the neighbourly thing and credit us!
Speak again very soon!
Erin (editor)

Monday, 2 June 2008

Travis Jenkins Award 2008; Thanking Theo

As the lights dimmed in the auditorium and, for the last time this year the spotlight zeroed in on the podium speaker, a tall lanky Dutchman in a sharp black suit made his way up the stage steps to collect a few dues.

After 2 decades of innovative and inspirational work within the drug using community, Theo Van Dam smiled broadly as he accepted the 2008 Travis Jenkin’s award from IHRA on the final day of their popular international conference. An award presented to current or former drug users who have made an outstanding contribution to reducing drug related harm, this year Theo was publicly acknowledged by a distinguished international cohort of colleagues, peers and admirers.

He wasn’t the only one smiling. As this greatly admired and respected Dutchman sprung up the steps of the IHRA stage to collect his award, I felt myself grinning from ear to ear. It was a great moment – a chance to acknowledge a lifetime of work from one of the most well known and respected drug user activists of our times.

Theo has been at the forefront of the fight for the health, welfare and rights of drug users, from within his home in the Netherlands and internationally. His creative and freethinking approach, his willingness and commitment, his humour – all coupled with his highly principled nature has made him one of the most inspirational and active Drug User Activists in the world.

Throughout the 90’s Theo fought hard to put harm reduction not just on the political agenda, but inside the minds of the using community. His direct approach was unique and he was as up front about how he delivered harm reduction to Dutch users and dealers, as he was to government officials and drug workers.

To try and write succinctly on Theo’s unique contribution to harm reduction leaves me hampered. I’m not sure of the finer details or of the dates of his projects and work.

I do know however, that as a young activist at the IHRA conference in Geneva (in 98/9?) hearing of the work Theo was doing amongst the using community left me feeling anything was possible. His idea behind starting International Drug User Day on November 1st was inspired and the 1st ever international gathering in Amsterdam in 2002? is still talked about today. The IDUD in now an international event, where drug users all over the world unite to protest, lobby, debate and discuss ways to reduce drug related harm, throw off the shackles of stereotyping and discrimination, push forward for effective peer and societal education about drugs, drug use and drug users and save lives.

Theo Van Dam came with the first wave of true international user activism, his experience is valuable, his commitment and belief in his work, is total. This year, the harm reduction world acknowledged and, most importantly thanked Theo Van Dam for his efforts, and I, still an activist he still inspires, thank him wholeheartedly too.

Thanks Theo. xx

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Black Poppy bends it in Brighton - get out the prescription pad!

Last week, Viv and I (Erin) gladly took up an opportunity of; 2 days in Brighton, hotel by the seaside, and an interesting conference with the Royal College of General Practitioners, "Meeting the Needs of Diverse Populations: Hard to Reach or Easy to Ignore?" Well, we know the answer to that one. The night before we traveled down there Viv and I had been talking about the title of this conference - how 'Hard To Reach' was still a slogan used regularly when commissioning services. Discussed yes, but rarely addressed. Viv pointed out that we are still in the habit of creating services for drug users based on a very prescriptive (scuse the pun) model. We don't cater for the person who dosent fit in the box. The service or opportunity for drug treatment or support for the person who doesn't speak the language, is of another culture, who works full time or is in shift work, the 'poly' drug user (which the vast majority of people are these days), has mental health problems, is extremely vulnerable or homeless. Viv was right of course. Yes, we have a few specialist services but we don't loosen up existing services to be more flexible with todays drug user's needs. We have older users, younger users, users from different cultures, imprisoned users. As i discussed with others at the conference - really, its not rocket science. So why are we still battling with it?

The conference was in itself, very interesting. Over 600 delegates, a large proportion GPs and those that work along side them, and a good sprinkling of user activists as well, which is always good to see (A big thanks to Dr Chris Ford for ensuring we all got there). In terms of the sessions, from BP's point of view perhaps one of the most interesting was a session by XXX entitled 'How do we manage pain in drug users?' Always a struggle for the average opiate dependent person, pain relief and management is an area where many doctors are flailing. (See BP's article The Pain Paradox).
In fact it is an area where opiate users themselves are often flailing in the dark. Well, opiate users brace yourselves; I heard one very interesting bit of information about methadone. Yes we all know it is a good pain killer - yet we all know it is wholly inadequate at times and even when we increase the dose it dosent always seem to hit the spot. Well, I learnt - and I can't understand why we all don't know this, that while methadone lasts for 24-36 hours and works the entire time to stop one withdrawing thus staying in the system, for pain relief - it's different. For pain relief, methadone works only 4-8 hours, therefore if one is using it for pain relief, one should split their doseage and use it 3-4 times a day, instead of the usual once or twice.
You can find out if your methadone is working at reliveing your pain by asking whether you get some relief shortly after you've taken it, but that you find it wears off and you end up taking heaps more. Now you know! Now, you should just SPLIT your dose up, take it throughout the day at 4-8 hourly intervals, and then you may well see that you get some relief. (To be continued).

Speedballing: opportunities and challenges for harm
reduction interventions

Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Best Users Union in the World??!!

Setting the Scene...

When BP received a request from the Danish Users Union to speak on the topic of heroin prescribing, we were more than keen to take up the invitation of visiting our peers in the North. We already knew several members of BrugerForeningen (the Danish Users Union) who were great activists from way back, and word about their evolving, expertly functioning union had been spreading for some time. (Pic L: The streets of Copenhagen)

In fact Denmark, the Danes, and in particular, the drug users of BrugerForeningen themselves, are indeed sitting very tall these days and for some time now they have quietly been writing up what has become an important chapter in the metaphoric annals of the drug user history books. For here in Copenhagen, lies one of the proudest achievements for the global drug user movement, without a doubt.

Denmark itself actually takes the shape of 406 islands, (only 78 are inhabited), physically standing out in the landscape of Northern Europe and only loosely surrounded by Sweden, Norway and Germany. Copenhagen, the Danish capital city where the User's Union is located, stands on the most populated peninsula and as a city, pulls in about 1.5million people in a country populated by about 5 million. (Pic- Denmark in relation to Europe)

Danish Drug Use

There hasn’t been a long history of drug use or trafficking in Denmark, in fact I was told that through the 40's, 50's and 60's there was virtually no illicit (or street) drug use at all. With the North sea defining Denmark to the west, on the Eastern side most of the islands are buffered by the Baltic Sea and are seated on the sea lane to the main oceans of the world. One would think that this meant very definite routes for the drug trade, but Denmark seems to have been at the extended end of the drug importation chain, rather than perched in its centre as its location could possibly suggest. The Netherlands however, sits just below Denmark and is not quite as far north, better situated then as a central point for international drug trafficking.

Nordic drug users however (particularly the Swedish), do travel to Denmark, for the treatment options as much as the drug trade, so much so than the Danish government recently fought back. Swedish addicts no longer gain unfettered access to Denmark’s methadone clinics, and must wait for up to 2 years for a place at a Swedish methadone clinic, unable to access clean needles at pharmacies (only one needle exchange in Sweden) and widely oppressed in a country that believes it can and will become entirely drug free. The Danish User Union recently took 16 Danish activists to meet their sister user union in Sweden, and they swapped information, ideas and support. BrugerForeningen took action where they saw they could and now arrange to send thousands of sterile syringes every month direct to the union, supporting the Swedish users as they continue to fight tooth and nail for more humane treatment.

Copenhagen has the feeling of a civilised city, and certainly it has that reputation. But as I was told, more than once, things are changing in Denmark. The gap between rich and poor has widened through the recent change to conservative governance and Denmarks quality social care system has seen signs of erosion.

It could be all more amazing then that lodged within the sharp ends of an unimaginative, conservative drug policy is a group of active drug users who have turned a part of Copenhagens drug culture into perhaps the best example of a drug user union in the world.

The Danish Users Union

BrugerForeningen began in the early 90’s, but it wasn’t until around 1996 that the seeds for its future were sown. A group of committed, Danish user activists, led at the front by an amazing and enterprising team leader Joergan K, set to work actively reshaping and forming the union. They were spurred on by the realization that, far more than discussion and debate, drug users had to physically show they could give something back to their communities; that in order to create a safe, useful and functioning space for the Danish drug users, they needed to show what kind of contribution such a group could make. So they very quickly became useful – to the community, to society, to each other. The doors excluding drugs users from being able to run a legitimate service for their community and their peers were blown off their hinges as BrugerForeningen began its work of creating a piece drug user activist gold!

Today, presiding over a budget of ¼ million pounds, a committed, focused and proud team of volunteers run what is arguably, the best example of a user union in the world.

Situated in bright, airy community building, BrugerForeningen occupy a large, comfortable space with a large kitchen, dining and lounge room area - all open access and kept neat as a pin. A long corridor veers off the lounge area and rooms branch off on either side at every chance. Sunny, breezy offices for the core staff to work, a room for advocacy advice and support, a room for a family worker for the friends and families of users (the only non user here), and rooms for a wide variety of activities; a fully furnished gym with massage chair for physical ailments (of which many older user suffer), a fully kitted out music room for sessions, a constantly updated cuttings and resource library, a room for film recording equipment and editing, an arts and woodwork room, complete with modern tools and drug user created artworks framed on the walls. (Pic Left: the incredible archive of drug related literature).

The User Union is also the home of JKs more recent interest, an opiate museum; glass cabinets capturing drug user paraphernalia from as far back as is possible to obtain, recording all aspects of a primarily opiate, drug culture. (If you have any objects you think could be housed, cared for and should be shown to others, please do contact the Danish User Union. (Pic L: Glass cabinets housing the opiate collection)

A large room containing chairs, flipcharts and a podium is where they offer workshops on Wednesdays to students, health professionals, users and the friends and families of users, discussing everything from drugs, drug treatment, overdose issues, shaping and challenging drug policy, hep c prevention and other health issues. This was where I was to present my speech on heroin prescribing, something the Danish government has finally decided to attempt, joining the ranks of many other countries in Europe who have gained overwhelmingly positive results from this approach. It has been through the consistent effort, the focussed campaigns, the active debate, discussion and action of the Danish user union that has ensured this is now something that the government will indeed attempt.

Users can change the face of drug strategy; if we believe that somewhere there is the will, and a way to proceed, it is possible to move mountains. In BrugerForeningen, there’s no rules about not being stoned, no one has to leave for being asleep or on the nod. People can talk about drugs all day long and no one cares. Drugs are a part of everyone’s lives and trying to deny or hide the fact is pointless. But people take a great pride in BrugerForeningen, in fact it is a sense of pride so strong, that it is almost tangible. Its reputation is jealously guarded, and for every broom that sweeps across the floors, every sponge that wipes away crumbs, is done with an immense belief and deep appreciation for the ideals held within BrugerForeningen; that active users CAN contribute something useful and important to society, they can work together for a common goal, they can teach other professionals something essential about drug addiction, they can offer an important service for the community and are just as able to work out what they, as a group, need from a service. (Pic above right: the gym in the Users Union, another way to get ones endorphins going; Pic Right: one off the offices for the members.)

The Syringe Patrol

Nine years ago, Brugerforeningen began a Syringe Patrol. They decided to buy some equipment (bins, rubbish clamps, boots and gloves, yellow jackets with the union name and logo and the words ‘Syringe Patrol’ printed on them). They sent out flyers into the community to let people know they could ring up BrugerForeningen if they noticed any drug related litter in the area, and then went out, 3 volunteers at a time onto the street of Copenhagen. Each person does around 90 minutes, fanned out around the area where most inner city users congregate. The rubbish they pick up is street using standard: syringes, spoons, foil, bags, empty wraps etc. I did notice something rather worrying however, and this was the recent rise in crack smoking – or rather, street users cooking up their own crack using something like paint stripper, an extremely strong smelling solvent which they use to change the coke into rock for smoking. Hopefully users will rinse their rocks of this substance before smoking but I daresay many don’t, or don’t rinse enough...Nasty stuff, no doubt about it, and it will be sad to see Danish users succumb to the terrible health problems that will surely follow. The User Union has its work cut out in terms of education...(Pic_ above: Peter on Syringe Patrol, at work on the streets of Copenhagen)

These days, the Patrol has now won a contract from the council and gets £40,000 per year of unrestricted funds (to spend as they see fit), to continue the service, and this is alongside the council offering a similar service themselves. It dosent take a genius to see that the User Union members can do the job a little better, more regularly and with a eye to learn about the changes occurring in the local drug scene. It is a service any user group anywhere in the world could replicate. BrugerForeningen have a van they take out for the job, and now also have 5 scooters and bicycles. If a volunteer does the patrol regularly he or she is able to borrow a scooter to take home and use as they wish. I would like to thank the guys I went out on Patrol with, and I am really keen to try and see if we can implement such a service at home in London. It is a brilliant plan to help change the negative image of the using community, address our own litter issues, respond to community concerns, and work with the council providing a service. Brilliant! (Pic_ above R: Tom takes the van out on Syringe Patrol)

BrugerForeningen take a team building week away every year, renting a nice place by the sea and train and tackle team building subjects, an invaluable use of resources JK tells me. On computers in the lounge area, a slide show continually shows pictures of their outings and I’m sure this goes a long way towards building such a strong and vital team. I say a team, it is actually more like an extended family. Again I feel many user groups could take a leaf out here and perhaps find the finds to invest more in their teams to attain such valuable outcomes.

Dinner comes around every nite at 7pm and the food is bought and cooked by users. Every single night we were fed a really delicious healthy meal, except for one night where we went out for a sightseeing afternoon and dinner in a restaurant in Christiania. (Pic R: a massive, fully functioning kitchen serving up some wicked meals!)

I bundled into the van with everyone and we all took off on a sightseeing tour of Copenhagen. Everyone was filling me in with all the historical news about Denmark, pointing out the very unusual architecture and Denmark’s ability to insert the more modern building right alongside the old and of course, the monarchy's role and its place in the heart of Danes.

Christiania!F004EDCA3AAE43B!1058/ (This is a link to the photos from our sightseeing day out; JK took pics of the Users Union, Copenhagen city, Christiania, and the gang!

Christiania was fascinating. It began as a protest against slums and a lack of housing, so in the 60’s a group of people moved in to a grassy spot in Copenhagen’s old abandoned military area and began to build their own huts. There was a lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen and by the early 70’s the hippy, squatters and anarchist movement had moved in. Although Christiania has since established semi-legal status as an independent community it is regularly the source of debate and constant attempts at ‘normalization’ by the government, particularly as it now stands on such valuable ground. I was fortunate enough to have one of Christiania’s first residents sitting right next to me in the van and I heard all about their early year struggles. (Thanks Stin!). Because there were no rules, particularly in the beginning, when people realized there was little consequence to their actions, it became a case of the strongest survived. Stin stayed for 10 years but grew tired of the struggle. It became lawless and he grows dark at the inference that it was a peaceable hippy community. No doubt Christiania has had its moments as a peaceable community, but it’s also had some questionable approaches to societal issues. For example, although Christiana had begun offering a home to drug dependent people who were forced out of normal society, by the mid 70’s after overdoses, thefts and a very visible increase in numbers becoming addicted to heroin, the residents gave the users and pushers an ultimatum; either give up drugs or go into rehab, or leave. And for 40 days and nights the residents patrolled the area, evicting anyone who wasn’t prepared to give up heroin use. Today, there has continued a thriving hash and smoke trade, but ‘hard drugs’ are no longer permitted. However, attempts by the Danish User Union to support the local Cannabis organisation in Christiania in their efforts to change the laws has met with some reticence. There seems to be little will coming from Christianias hash smokers, despite the huge amount of trade it creates inside the commune.

However, residents do pay tax, have set rules, and try and live out their lives outside the system. Yet as each year passes it seems the Danish government grows ever closer in an effort to encircle Christiania and impose capitalism on its residents and the land. I will watch what happens from the UK, along with the 800 residents and 500 children that currently live inside the commune of Christiania.

My experince and visit to BF was inspirational. I was welcomed like one of the gang and made to feel so at home, I was really quite sad to leave. I would have been totally miserable had I not been so inspired to inject some of BFs energy into our own organisation back in the UK. BP is putting on a memorial day for those who have died as a result of drugs or alcohol on the international day of remembrance - July 21st, following in the footsteps of BF who hold one each year. If anyone would like to get involved or offer support, please do get in touch with us at BP.

(Pic R: The Danish Drug Users Memorial, a plaque and a paradise apple tree sits in the centre of a using area, the scene of many overdoses).

Although there was perhaps a lack of new and younger heroin users and injectors attending BF, I don't think that really matters. Older users are often the most isolated of all users, usually suffering the most health problems. If BF can provide a safe and functioning space, that feels like an extended family and at the same time manages to lobby, campaign, agitate and activate, then who are we to insist that they must open their doors even wider? It can be an extremely complex effort balancing such an organisation, especially one with no paid staff (except one) - all which means the investment into the volunteers must be enough to sustain and maintain a volunteers belief, respect, and feeling to keep coming back. No mean feat. BF manage to do this, and do it well. It isn't possible for an organisation to be all things to everyone, but BF manages to be most things to many, being as memorable to those members as well.

I would just like to thank everyone who made me feel so at home at BF, JK, Eva, Tom, John, Per, Brian, Eric, Ivan, the girls, Peter, Rose, Nana - everyone, I'm sending you all big hugz and kisses and look forward to coming back again one day soon. Much love Erin xxx

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Black Poppy picks up pace on Blogging.

Ok Ok, we know we haven't blogged since last year when we went to Poland as the 1st contingent of user activists to be formally supported by an official body. We were sent to cast our expert eyes and ears over the worlds best and most innovative harm reucdtion projects and research in order to take back the best and most adaptable bits to inform the UK's first Harm reduction strategy. And itwas incredibly intense, busy, hard working and incredibly inspiring. BP took the first bits of film to make our first short 12 minute film on what user activists around the globe are doing (its completed by we need to correct a few bits before posting it on the web but we will ensure it is on our website and INPUDS).
Anyway, we have continued at BP to do work in all shapes and forms yet we haven't been clever at recording it. This has now changed. WE are committed to keeping up to date with our blogg and ensuring we record the work we do, routinely. As an independant grassroot organisation it is essential records are kept of the range of work undertaken, and wherever possible, the public is able to see this also.
BP has undergone some structural changes over the last 8 months and we have revamped our organisation ready to cope with a stronger future. We will of course keep you updated on our progress and changes, and any thoughts you may have will be greatly appreciated also. BP's strengths and attitude comes from the voice and experience of the using community, and we are always listening.
Next post: BP is invited to Copenhagen to meet the Danish User Union and deliver a talk on Heroin Prescribing and the British System. Will post shortly. x

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Remembering Dr. Vincent Dole: Taking it to the Streets of Russia.

Simon is from the West Midlands in the UK - works in the drug field, is a service user, and was part of the UK contingent to attend the IHRA conference in Warsaw in May 07.

Having just returned from the 18th International Conference on Harm Reduction, I take away the belief that harm reduction really has come of age. It seems, by and large, to be a universal acceptance that the chemically dependant of the world should and must be accorded their human rights, and have the right to be accorded some basic quality of life. This view has the support of the World Health Organisation, the International Red Cross, and even the United Nations. Yet the sad fact is that more people in the world are put to death for drug related crime than almost any other - that includes war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In a conference of this size and scope it is normally hard to pick out something or someone that really stands out. For me, I think it would have to be opioid substitution in Eastern Europe. This series of talks was given in the memory of Dr Vincent Dole and was supported by the World Health Organisation. Dr Dole (who died in 2006 at 90 years of age) was a remarkable man. In World War II Dr Dole served in the US Navy and had worked to develop treatments that would calculate blood loss. As I understand it, this work that he pioneered is still being used to this day.

What Dr Dole will be remembered for however began in 1965, when he took 20 opiate addicts from different walks of life, put them on a course of methadone, and found some truly remarkable results. In a fairly short time all the participants had turned their lives around - from that of people who seemed to be heading for disaster and almost certain death, to people who were able to re-adjust, become stable in work, continue education and enter professions.

From that time on, the idea of properly maintaining a person on methadone (rather than just using opiate substitutes for detoxing) has been taken up and has been implemented all over the world. Dr Dole took the view that if a diabetic turned up at his surgery in desperate need of insulin and he refused to help, the outcry would be enormous and would most likely end in the doctor being subject to disciplinary action.

Speaking as a person who has benefited from being maintained over many years, and having truly turned my life around, I always had a desire to express my gratitude. I took the view that it would be good to put something back. When I made this decision I worked in a voluntary capacity in my home City of Worcester (in the Midlands). Later on this has turned into employment, which culminated in our own NTA asking me, as a service user, to attend this conference in Poland to consider harm reduction.
Many times we look at our services in this country and we see improvements which are needed and, as service users, it is quite proper that we do this. In the UK we still have a long way to go.
However, it was sitting in the meeting when this tribute to Dr Doyle was made, that we had the good fortune to hear Professor Vladimir Mendelewich speak on the difficulties that he faced in Russia. I think it fair to say that I have been an avid reader of the history of this troubled nation, which throughout the 20th century suffered war and famine, both of which have cost the lives of millions. Today we think of Russia as being a more modern society which cares for its people, that operates a more liberal approach than it has in the past. Judge my chagrin when the Professor told us that not only was treating addicts disapproved of, but it was written into state law that no doctor could treat an addict. Here was someone whose hands were more than just tied - he was bound hand and foot.

At the end of the session we were invited to ask questions and make comments. So I threw caution to the wind to ask if there was anything that could be done by service users in the UK to help the situation. We have seen encouraging signs in Croatia and the Ukraine and other speakers gave encouraging pictures in Iran and many other places. However, in Russia, all this prohibition is doing is opening the doors to gangsters that make the mafia seem like part timers. If we as Service Users really wish to honour the memory of Dr Vincent Dole, it is the duty of all of us who have benefited from treatment in the UK to be in contact with those in our Government like our Drug Minister, The Home Office, and those who work in the diplomatic field, to put pressure on governments who actually outlaw treatment. This goes beyond a doctor who does not wish to help; this is surely a violation of human rights, and a public health issue .

Of course it is a difficult issue to fight but I would like to think that at least somone in Russia who is suffering at the hands of the crooked and unscrupulous, will know that although we in the UK are fortunate we are not going to forget their plight. I believe that a treatment service in Russia would be a tribute to a truly great man- namely Dr Dole.