Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Monday, 28 May 2007

VIDEO: Voices Vs 'Scripts? Or Time for a Change?

Click on the title above for a video link, produced by BP.
This video gives you a brief rundown on the history of INPUD, the International Network Of People who Use Drugs - and their place in the world's largest harm reduction conference. Getting the world's most committed drug user activists together in one place, 'finances, health issues, and prescriptions permitting, is an international endeavour.

Voices Vs 'Scripts...So what will it be?

INPUD plan to be the meat in the sandwich, taking on the role of ensuring a clear route ahead for some of the most persecuted activists from some of the most heavily policed countries in the world. INPUD aims to make sure that all those who need to attend the worlds largest harm reduction gathering can, without fear of illness or incarceration. Getting the voices of the drug using community, onto an international stage. There should be 'Nothing about us, without us'. Please see blogg below for more information on INPUD.

Monday, 21 May 2007

The UK Crew Take Their Ideas back Home

The UK Crew: What we will be taking back to the UK

Alex: There is a few things but I’ll focus on one thing here and it’s about getting better information to current users about the risks involved in the injecting process and specifically – we know that people have got the message that its risky to share needles and syringes but everything else in the process of cooking up, particularly social cooking up – more than one person, I think we can do better at explaining to people that they are putting themselves at risk by sharing filters, sharing cookers, sharing the flushed water, and the most exciting thing is that we can do it cheaply, it can be user led and it could really have an impact on blood borne viruses in the UK.

Simon: I was struck by the comparisons – the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and all these other agencies and bodies, were basically giving the same message. It was quite remarkable – it was a sort of a byzantine empire, a sort of topsy turvy world in that in very advanced countries like America they have quite a punitive approach yet in extreme Muslim countries such as under Sharia law, they seem to have quite an enlightened harm reduction process. So there isn’t really a hard and fast rule, I think its an idea of public policy, health and the political will, and given the combination of those, much can and could be achieved.

Herman: I just found the conference content has been stimulating, has been thought provoking; themes running through in particular have been the partnerships working at all levels and, understanding the wider global issues surrounding drug misuse.

Oliver; influencing law enforcement policies, practical methods for influencing law enforcement regarding the improvement of harm reduction; examples Ive seen from Burma, China, Vancouver where they employ community action, self ownership and harmonisation of harm reduction and law enforcement aims.
Really good examples of peer education, from china Thailand and Liverpool, use of phased peer ed training programmes, regular knowledge sharing programmes and the International element of the conference which puts into perspective the work that's going on in the UK but its also inspiring to see whats going on in Burma, Iraq, and china are able to achieve under such difficult circumstances and with little resources. Ive also gained a lot of knowledge about what the wider user involvement movement is doing around the world.

Eliot: I think the conference lived up to its title, the conference has come of age in 2 major respects. The first thing is user involvement is beginning to be cross organised on the international front which is a great thing and the 2nd thing is the serious attempt to come to grips with prohibition which has been one of the most important things for me, recognising it as the font of most drug related harms.

Sally: Ive 3 main themes, one is prisons, we really haven't got right harm reduction here and Ive 4 quick things that would be quick and cheap and easy to implement.
The 2nd theme is on user involvement and how much better it is but how much more we have to do in terms of funding and training ourselves in order to get that right across the board in the UK. But my main thing is planning grids, treatment plans under harm reduction and my main points are that we need strategies for sex workers, gay and transgender people, and we need far more needle exchanges particularly in rural areas. The 3rd thing is we need strategies for methamphetamine and crack which is coming (to Cornwall/ South West England) and we are not prepared – (why aren’t condoms in treatment centres?) Strategies for HCV, it shouldn't be a postcode lottery, it should be standardised across the board and it should be available more than once if you need a series of treatments. We have a pandemic and we are just not addressing it.

Sharon: One of my key themes is frameworks of harm reduction for sex workers. Obviously in the UK there is harm reduction for sex workers but i think its quite mainstream and there is such a lot of barriers for women accessing these kinds of services. But looking at the frameworks particularly in countries like Australia, the US from Canada, and how they've been able to bring it all together and kind of have specific harm reduction for sex workers is what I want to bring back to the UK.

Jimi; the main thing that i feel really could be implemented in the UK is to do with refocusing drug testing in our prisons. There has been some examples in Scotland, of refocusing the money spent on drug testing onto support. Minimising the testing, using the remaining drug testing and making it randomised and anonymised, gaining information just to evolve treatment options. Scotland are doing it and I really really hope we follow suit in the rest of the UK.

Rick: The first one is advocacy. Advocacy has come up pretty much all the way through this conference. Advocacy for support, representation, Involvement in care planning, challenging the statutory services on medication issues, access to services, support through legal processes and statutory interventions, challenging discrimination, the list goes on. That links into drug user representation, planning, assessing, implementing service delivery and realistic interventions for once. Peer driven programmes – harm reduction and the empowerment of users to assist in all processes of harm reduction and peer support and peer education and outreach programmes and services.
The 2nd one is HCV, drug users can adhere to ART’s ARBs / treatments we need more awareness and more campaigns and no more exclusion of this group. More support groups are needed as are referrals to counselling and adequate blood works, liver screening etc. Health promotion needs advocacy available. 3rd point – prisons – needs inter grated care pathways and better continuity of care on release, we need NEPs in prisons, condoms, specialist IDU advice and information and peer support advocacy and training programmes. HCV screening, referrals and treatment and care pathways upon release. And specialist services for LGBT/ MSM IDUs, to address transgender needs in every region, their health issues, counselling, to develop programmes and policies that address their current exclusion/obstacles from accessing services. And of course - DATA, better data collection in all aspects of harm reduction.

VIV: My first point is that we need to work much more closely with the EU harm reduction recommendations 2003 which dose state that harm reduction paraphernalia should be widely available in prisons, in rural areas, a lot more mobile NEPs for homeless people and sex worker areas. The 2nd point is working to value health above law enforcement, so working alongside the police in terms of advocacy and training – there was a good quote that you can get over an addiction but you cant get over a conviction. The third one is using user reps to be involved in all public policy making, its worked really well to have both user groups and health professionals working together.

Erin: For the user groups in the UK who are constantly developing and evolving in terms of their strategies and ideas, the opportunity for us to know what is going on with other drug user groups in the rest of the world is essential. There is a great deal we can learn from each other and it is the time now for us to start using our media and IT networks and resources to really start sharing our knowledge and ideas. But more than that, we need to support each others fights in other countries. Every single drug using country where prohibition reigns, has a constant fight and uphill struggle on their hands - and our hands are still soaked in blood. We may forget what is happening is Russia as we fight for our diamorphine scripts while methadone is still illegal for them - we have to remember to support each other and that is part of the reason behind why an international network and resource centre is crucial for our futures.
2nd: We need to reevaluate the Needle exchange in the UK. We need to look closely at what drug users themselves feel they need to learn. Shame and stigma around drug use and in particular, 'self inflicted' injuries, or injuries sustained from injecting or stimulant induced picking, self harming etc, are deeply hidden but widespread and the financial, social and psychological costs of not attempting to deal with these issues in any comprehensive/confidential way at frontline NEPs, is immense. It's time we really shook up NEPs out of their complacency and made them adaptable and useful to drug users, addressing the constantly changing face of the drug scene. We need variety in front line services, not repetition.
And thirdly and just as importantly - we need to do more as a community to challenge stigma and address the relentless bad press and negative public image drug users face on a daily, yearly basis. There is no reason why the NTA and the government cannot support us here. Stigma is at the root of just about every single problem, obstacle and setback drug users across the world face. Ignorance yields prejudice which is behind social exclusion and isolation. We need to let the UK know what work we are doing as a community, we need to have a multi pronged approach in terms of challenging and changing societies attitudes towards drug users. We need to remember our dead, we need to strengthen our networks work with the media and we need to be clever to challenge the prejudice that is killing us. We must never, ever be afraid of direct action when its needed - we have a great deal to learn of the aids and gay rights movements when they were at the height of their persecution. We must never forget what is really going on underneath the multiple facade of drug user victimisation. We must work to change our future, and to make sure its a future we want.
We all had a brilliant time, thank you to everyone, IHRA, the lovely hotel staff and chefs, all the fascinating people who brought their ideas, reasearch and projects to share - and of course the NTA who funded us all to go. Thank you. x

VIDEO LINK: The Polish Situation for the drug using community

Maria tells BP about the situation for drug users in Poland. As the IHRA conference was held in Warsaw this year, we felt her story and insight into the drug scene within her country should be heard. Poland are facing many challenges - in particular as you will hear, the transmission of blood borne viruses through their methods of producing 'homemade' heroin, (liquid form) and the severe lack of drug treatment in prison, as well as across the country itself. Respect to all those working in the organsiation 'Liberty' - and the other groups in Poland - and of course, a huge Thanks To Maria, x


Click the link above which is from the ibogaine website in the UK which takes you directly to a links page which has a rundown of some of the best ibogaine links currently online.

The Ibogaine session in Warsaw was one of the most interesting satellite sessions at the conference, however it was held at a different hotel, and it was funded to appear, I believe, by a different company (not IHRA). Having included ibogaine in our very first issue of Black Poppy magazine after having just stumbled across it at the time, I was intrigued to find out what developments had been occurring with this 'sacrament of iboga' since it really began to take off on the international scene over a decade or so ago.

The meeting was well attended with around 40 people, which included easily the most knowledgable and well known people on Ibogaine that are around today. The speakers included both Howard Lotsof and Dana Beal (two of the world's most committed Ibogaine activists), and many others, including those with Ibogaine clinics, some which were operating illegally or undercover due to inane drug laws. Others were those who had swallowed the 'sacrement of iboga', and were as effusive about their experiences as anyone who found themselves recovered from their addiction, could be.

Another person of interest who attended the days event was UK filmmaker David Graham Scott, who filmed his own heroin detox using Ibogaine as the treatment. His documentary called Detox or Die, which was filmed on the BBC in 2004 was, I believe fascinating (bummer I missed it) and while chatting over lunch he told me that he was still off the gear today. You can Google his name - I can't find a website for him but there are many articles about his film or if you're very keen to find out more, email us at BP and we'll see if we can get him to contact you.

There was a lot of detailed chemistry involved in some of the talks that I have to say went over my head for that early in the morning and my eyelids grew heavy - not for lack of trying to keep them open you understand, it was just my own 'script had run out a bit early so I'd overcompensated a bit with extra methadone, like you do...) but the information that soon emerged about ibogaine being a viral inhibitor was very interesting. Those with high viral loads for Hepatitis C found, after an Iboga session, levels had substantially reduced, however I urge you to look closer into the research available for more information on this.

It was clearly an field that drew 'converts' - perhaps even zealots, but I have to say that my own views on detoxing from my addiction to heroin (I'm on an opiate prescription as mentioned) began throwing up another option I'd really never considered before. Perhaps Ibogaine could actually be a worthwhile option instead of months on this, then swapping to that, then perhaps over to subutex for the final withdrawals...etc etc etc.

Ibogaine is supposed to alleviate withdrawals almost completely, you are in such a deep state of hallucinatory, and/or auditory thought, the withdrawals don't appear to torment you as they do when your are conscious. There is a chemical component which helps to divert many of the aches, pains, anxieties etc. I have asked several people, including a very dear friend who has taken ibogaine whether this was really true and he promised me it really was!

However i was taken aside by an 'underground ibogaine operative' - a great New Yorker who gave ibogaine treatments to people on a sliding scale (treatments do cost - there are doctors, equipment, time, rooms etc needed) who, although he got through his own addiction to drugs using ibogaine, assured me it wasn't a cure - there are zealots about - you still have to be ready in mind and body for the experience. And some people use it again, many times throughout their lives in fact, whenever they feel the need to 'get back in touch with themselves'.

I was told in no uncertain terms that 'NO, Iboga is NOT a CURE for addiction'. Sometimes it just works with the one treatment (which usually lasts for 24-48 hours), other people return to it a dozen times. It is not something you take for fun, nor is it something you take without, as our BP writer OldTheRod puts it 'the proper intent'. It is essential to have an experienced sitter with you, there are some medical complications that can occur and Iboga has recently been gathering a bit of bad press from a few deaths that have occurred while people have been undergoing treatment.

Yet again, it is because of the laws of the land, that make a drug such a ibogaine illegal, that ensures there can be no real regulation involved in the setting up of treatment centres. However, the community of ibogaine supporters are so enthusiastic about the properties of iboga, that they keep in close contact with each other, sharing information, best practice, research papers and news. They have managed to set up treatments available to people all around the world and constantly work at sharing their experiences and knowledge.

I spoke to Howard after the meeting and when I asked about what the pharmaceutical companies planned to do with iboga, he reeled off a list off obstacles to bringing ibogaine to the market. (It was once registered but I didn't manage to get to the bottom of why it was pulled of the shelf, so to speak). One fact is that drug companies can't patent this type of plant material (alkoloid?) - (excuse my sketchy knowledge, I've yet to go through all the papers but we plan to include a detailed piece in Black Poppy in an upcoming issue). They also tend to shy away from hallucinogens, from a drug that was 'discovered by hippies/junkies' and of course, a drug that potentially stops you from wanting or needing to take other Prozac type (SSRI's) or emotional pain killing drugs, and that has no real value or kudos for a drug company to retail it - along with the fact that it's used in ceremonies in central Africa, has an enormous vomiting potential and is generally - not the usual type of pharmaceutical a drug company would be interested in giving their patients!!!! So thats why!

But without the time to go into detail - I haven't as I said gone through all the paperwork and CD's I was kindly given at the meeting there are some things the interested person can do, and maybe I just might too...

Personally, I know of someone that stopped using heroin after years of trying after taking ibogaine, sold to him under the counter in a London hippy shop, a dangerous act - again something that happens when such a drug is hidden away, unregulated and clouded in much misinformation. We need to pick up Ibogaine, dust it off and have a good look into just what has been going on with it over the last 20-30 years and those 5000 people who have tried it officially since 1997. We can't expect other ex users and ibogaine converts to keep on risking their own lives and imprisonment by trying to help others break free of their addictions.
Check out the links, read a bit more and lets see if we can learn more from drugs that are a little outside the norm. Anyone who has had a trip knows the value in hallucinogens, their ability to teach and guide, and the brains' doors to the most insightful areas of perception....

VIDEO LINK: News and ideas to search out for the UK

VIDEO LINK: Click on the heading / link above to gain a brief insight into what the UK contingent are hoping to gain from this conference and this international meeting of minds; for ideas, research and information they each wish to take back to the UK....
We have finally sorted our youtube problems, thanks so much to the last person who sent in a comment to try Google's video uploader, a much more successful option. Bless you darling!

More to come...The last posting.

On Monday 21st, BP will be filling in the last of this blogg. We will be including the discussions on prohibition and the fantastic organsiation LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and our exclusive interview with Jack Cole, the exec dir) and what it means to harm reduction.

We will discuss the insights gained into Ibogaine and the interview BP had with Howard Lotsof and Dana Beal, and what the underground Ibogaine movement means to the drug using community and the Ibogaine practitioners, today.

We will be meeting and talking directly to the UK crew of service / user reps and listening to what they were searching for in this conference and what they will be taking back from this to the UK.

And we will be throwing in some of the words from the worlds user activists on what's happening in their own countries and the kinds of problems they each face. There is one theme that is the same for just about every country however...Now just have a guess what that might be...

NOTE: please forgive the difficulties with YOUTUBE. We had a great deal of problems connecting to the internet at the conference and uploading looked like a non starter altogether. The minimum size of 100 mgb means we can only show tiny bits and thus have to edit them down in another programme - and wouldn't you know it but I'm having trouble with our computer as well. Alas, we will continue with trying to upload and will certainly finish the text and adding of the pics.

BP will be putting together a short film of interviews of around 15 countries - asking them all the same five questions, and getting some very interesting and insightful answers to the types of issues affecting drug users today. Stay tuned.

INPUD; The International Network of People who Use Drugs; (bringing you up to date)

Catching Up...Chapter 2

(Left pic: Stijn Goossens; INPUD Activist, Belguim).

While we are still catching up on what has just gone before, let us not go any further without mentioning the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) and what is has set out to achieve.

To attempt to set up an international network of drug user groups is no small feat, in fact it must be one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. To combine limited resources, overworked and underpaid activists, multiple issues, languages, and continents and try and thread a solid, iron clad network from it, is clearly a challenge for the years ahead. Talks on the need for such a network had been continuing amongst user activists for years but it was a crisis at the 2005 IHRA Conference in Belfast that would highlight certain issues that couldn't be avoided any longer. The push to begin a network that was tightly linked into the worlds most important harm reduction conference in the world, soon became inevitable.

Nothing About Us Without Us...
BP managed to speak to Stijn Goossens, a user activist in his own country of Belguim and an organiser of INPUD. He explained that as the international user movement gathered strength and momentum, and more and more drug user activists played an empowered and determined role in the evolution of the conference and its harm reduction agenda, Belfast became one of those 'defining moments'. For the international user activists attending, it brought to their attention one of the fundamental obstacles drug users repeatedly face in attending such important networking and sharing/learning events.

What should be a reasonably straightforward procedure of people being able to take their legal prescriptions of controlled drugs into another country (in this case Northern Ireland) it was repeatedly proving to be a stumbling block in getting users together, and in Belfast it would prove so yet again. Harm reduction equipment, (a simple but functioning needle exchange) and adequate medical support on site, were rarely satisfactory and users again and again had to dig into to their own supplies to support others, - put in the unacceptable position of having to do something illegal. Clearly this wasn't good enough on an international stage such as this, and it was against everything IHRA was supposed to be about.

(Left Pic; INPUD meeting on day 1)

Stijn was at pains to explain that IHRA, the organisation that has developed the conference, did take this issue on board, the conference consortium was looked to for support and the decision was made to work much more closely with drug users themselves in future.

Vancouver was then the next IHRA conference and would be the founding moment when the first International Users Congress was held and 'The Vancouver Declaration' (of People who Use Drugs) was formulated by over 100 international user activists (see the INPUD website). An important document in the history of the user's movement - and a tool for the future - was born.

IHRA sought out funds for INPUD, sensing correctly that such a network was an essential component in their own progress as a harm reduction organisation. The money was then provided from the UK Department for International Development to help INPUD register itself as an official organisation and additional funds came from the Canadian International Development Agency, which will provide the practical support for the organising of skills building sessions and the opportunities for the organisation of User Activist networking during the conference. INPUD was able to play a variety of roles in getting over 100 user activists to the conference this year - no small feat.

This year, INPUD also made an agreement with WHO (World Health Organisation) and IHRA that for next years conference in Barcelona, INPUD will be entrusted with a larger role, in particular in those areas that are fundamental to ensuring that drug users are able to attend and contribute, without worrying about being sick, withdrawing, their health problems and other simple procedures for making attendance realistic and feasible. Milena, a user activist from Bulgaria, spoke passionately about our peers in from Russia for example, who don't have access to substitute medication at all even in their own countries yet it is essential that they are not excluded from attending due to this fact alone. Particularly in light of the extreme difficulties and incredible work drug user activists are doing in these countries, Milena feels it is crucial we find ways to get their voices heard on such an international stage. Similarly, there are countries that as drug users we don't feel safe to go to; a few years back there were many users who pulled out of the Thailand IHRA conference, fearing not only attending with their prescriptions, but also feeling it should have been boycotted as Thais who used drugs were being sent to boot camps, murdered and beaten while conference delegates ate lunches and discussed the persecution of drug users.

Although discussions were raised again over 2006/7 about INPUDs concerns about getting in particular, the Russians to attend, having translations available at the satellite meetings and ensuring there was at least one Polish Doctor available to support them with medications throughout their short stay at the conference, sadly, it became an issue again. Many of the Russians spent the conference withdrawing and again it was mostly up to the activists themselves to try and fill the gaps. The needle exchange and harm reduction setup was found wanting also and issues about the Conference's Consortuim were raised although, as Stijn stated, "From these problems we gain the opportunity for discussion and the search for solutions". And after discussions with the conference consortium, it was finally agreed INPUD would take over control of such issues in the future, gaining the opportunity to finally address and hopefully put an end to such simple, yet consistent obstacles to full user involvement.

The future however, could be seen as bright - as long as we don't look too close. The situations drug users face across the globe is still one of persecution, isolation, death by disease and neglect, victimisation, stigmatisation, incarceration - and so it goes on. In the same breath, we have the most impassioned, dedicated, responsive, and determined user activists around the world, continually working towards improving the welfare of their communities and creating ties, alliances and bridges with others - people and countries that only a few years ago wouldn't have dreamed on speaking to drug users, let alone acknowledging they know what they are talking about - and even more - that they can deliver too.

Stijn Goossens told BP, "Once we have gone through the process and have a structure that allows to us to have international partners that will involve us, that allows us to gather people from around the world to speak out on the issues that are affecting us at the grassroots, we will not have to have other people to speak for us, but we will be speaking for ourselves."

Well said.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Catching Up on Warsaw (Things we just didn't get to write up in time; Chapter 1)

Sat, 10th May 2007: A part of the global Million Marijuana March, The Free Hemp Rally in Warsaw was attended by several thousand people. As the crowd grew, so did the sense of anticipation. Cannabis is viewed with deep suspicion by Polish society in general and in particular, by the Polish police who stood around in small groups looking serious and irritated. This was fairly new territory for the Poles, and despite being their third yearly rally, there was still a great deal of nervousness and 'newness' about the whole thing emanating from the crowd. Although the people seemed a little unsure how to react, the mood relaxed a bit when the march itself began to move, and there was that universal feeling of safety in numbers.

The rally was late to begin - in fact it may have been lucky to start in the first place. The event organiser's had informed me that the police had just backtracked on their previous agreement to close off certain roads to traffick, thus allowing the events musical floats to pass by, a central component of any moving rally. Stressed rally organisers paced up and down while Polish police stood by looking very authoritarian - standing around in tight groups, each one looking more official than the last until it looked like Warsaw's top brass had joined the throng, just to put up a show of their own. It was a little like stepping back in time a few years when police just didn't, couldn't let people smoke the evil weed. It is ILLEGAL! It's a drug for heroin addicts! They seemed totally unsure of what such a rally was trying to say in the first place but ego's dictated stern faces and a firm line.

One of the members from the organisation, when asked whether they gained much support from the enormous student bodies located in Warsaw, shook her head from side to side mouthing an elliptical NOOO NO NOOO. Looking around her as she spoke, she mentioned that she herself shouldn't actually be here, that if she gets seen by the wrong person she could lose her place in university. And once your place was lost - that was it - you wouldn't get it back. This had the ring of being almost like a conviction - and indeed, to lose your highly valued education in Poland - it may as well be. However, there were people there, young people did brave the day as did a few oldies too; there were the usual bright costumes, (and people in prison stripes) people in the rasta colours and the dope flag flying high, but there was one thing missing - something I sensed very quickly - something that said a great deal about the political and psycological take on this issue...There was no cannabis to be seen. There was not a joint to be found or a whiff to be smelt or a bag to be bought - anywhere. (Although BP sussed there was the tiniest amount for the sharing but only if you dug and dug deep the right places)...

The slight hesitancy of the crowd to start yelling slogans eased as the march began moving although the tone I thought was rather dampened by the fact that you couldn't just smoke a big spliff one day all together - in front of the cops and the world! That the freedom to raise the issue of prohibition is still severly hampered by the fact that there were clearly many years of uphill struggle remaining just to begin to change the most basic attitudes to the worlds most versatile weed.

Unsurprisingly considering the circumstances, the Free Hemp organisation was primarily pushing the issue of hemp as an agricultural commodity. Alex and Jacob, two of the people from the Free Hemp organisation, were very clear about their intentions and legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana for smoking wasn't the foremost concern. Perhaps sensibly, Free Hemp were pursuing a slightly different priority on the cannabis agenda. By educating the public (in particular the farmers and the government) as to the huge benefits of hemp as an industry, i.e its ease of growth, its large consumer potential as a superior substance for twine, material, paper, oil etc, Free Hemp are attempting to become the middle men in a new enterprise for Poland. It is only legal to grow hemp in Poland (the indica variety that has minute amounts of THC and is used for manufacture of materials etc) IF a farmer already has beaten a mountain of governmental red tape and managed to gain themselves a contract with a buyer. Free Hemp are therefore trying to set up large buyers from other european countries and link them in with Polish farmers who are willing to take a leap into the unknown and begin Hemp production on an industrial scale. Free hemp clearly believe there would be a big pay off for farmers, hemp lobbiests and society if only people would take off their blinkered views about cannabis, the plant, and that dope smoking, big spliff toking 'reputation of mary jane' that is so hard to shift, it obscures the plant as one of the world's most versatile agricultural commodities.

A huge thanks to Alex and Jacob. Keep up the good fight! Ignorance should always be challenged.

Note from Free Hemp: For further information...
All the work we do is aimed at freeing hemp, including hemp industrially produced, from the considerably restrictive laws. We facilitate an exchange of information and experience concerning policies of production, retail, as well as promoting hemp articles.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

The final uploading begins

We apologise for the lack of pictures and videos uploaded while we wereaway, the workload was intense and the ability to upload was severly hampered by some dodgy connections. However, over the next 48 hours we will be uploading and adding all the good bits to the blogg - and embedding the video links within it. Please check back shortly for clips on the polish user scene, the UK crew and their thoughts pre and post conference, and a few other little gems...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

What's on for today

Today - I'll be attending a satellite meeting with Howard Lotsof - the man that brought the world IBOGAINE. He has agreed to an interview which we hope to publish in Black Poppy Magazine very soon (perhaps next issue) and it will be fascinating to hear what has been happening with Ibogaine over the last decade. More and more people are using it in the UK and it was interesting when having a chat with Howard that he mentioned he was totally unprepared for the support he has had from drug users themselves. Ibogaine is a (root/vine?) from the Iboga treenand had been used for years to help people overcome addiction. The actual discussion around Ibogaine is that it can 'cure' people of their addiction after just one attempt. Many are sceptical but many have tried it with success. It is a heavy duty 24 hour hallucinatory experience - and afterwards, with the help of a guide who is with you throughout the experience, you will move on and out through your addiction. It sounds too good to be true and I think that is one of the problems they, Howard et al, have faced, however there has also been some suspicious resistance from the pharmaceutical profession - apparently due to the fact that the last thing they want is people giving up drugs - any drugs. They refuse to fund reserach despite the thousands of people who have tried ibogaine - and have been at war with Howard for decades. If my facts are slightly skewed, please forgive me as I will be finding out a lot more about it today - and will bring back the news.
I still havent managed to tell you about the wonderful Jack Cole from LEAP though I will get something down today - and perhaps we will have time to give you a brief update from all the filming we have been doing - a five minute chat to all the user activists from around the world, asking them what are the biggest issues facing drug users in their countries today amongst a few other things. But you know what is consistantly coming up - over and over again? The biggest issue almost everyone faces - is stigma and discrimination. That is at the root cause of all of the problems for all of us - and its one of the hardest ones to change. Till tonite ( I promise to keep trying with uploading the videos).

Themes emerging...

Morning! Upon waking up to a rather overcast Polish day, many themes and issues are emerging from this conference and the agenda for today is sure to restore a bit of energy. Firstly, in terms of themes emerging - one thing keeps springing up - and that is that harm reduction groups and activists need to liaise a lot more closely with drug law reform and drug policy groups. The simple fact is, we will keep having to continue with more and more innovative harm reduction measures - in prisons, for the homeless, to prevent people getting iller and more isolated - until we start tackling the root cause of why we need such measures - the drug laws themselves. If we used all our alliances, energy, ideas and research and directed it consistantly towards trying to challenge, change, inform the laws themselves, then maybe we wouldn't end up at conferences like this talking of deaths, persecutions, infections, violence, and the social isolation of drug users.
It really is time we started moving up a notch, changing gear and beginning to address the reasons WHY people are so ill, stigmatised and scapegoated. Why the laws get away with continuing to demonise and imprison millions and millions of people around the globe - for taking drugs. For taking a substance that because it isnt alcohol or tobacco (which kill more people than all the other drugs combined) - your an outcast, your forced to hide, to be ashamed, to lose your family to lose your livlihood and as we hear in the US - to lose the chance of ever gaining an education or even public housing - and sometimes as in the good 'ol USA, the chance to have children - or more generally for the rest of us, to keep your children with you. Just unbelieveable....

The Scots have got the idea! What are we waiting for?

Harm reduction in prisons -Plenary session, P2 mon 14th – 9-10.30 - post by Jimi

Hey all,
So many wonderful harm reduction innovations in one day - but there was one that lept out and bit me. At a harm reduction in prisons plenary, a little gem appeared and i just cant keep my gob shut a second longer.

Baroness Vivien Stern spoke of the way scottish prisons handle drug testing. All the money they used to spend on testing prisoners is now spent on support. They no longer test for substances in the urine in a punitive way, the tests they do are randomised and anonomysed and results are used to inform treatment options and service development.

Its so brilliant and simple I nearly missed it. I had to repeat it over and over to fully grasp it and when I did understand its full implications I was bowled over by its potential.

So brilliant, its got a proven evidence base, and its an initiative the home office and the prison service should embrace south of the border.

For further information you can contact the ihra website: www.ihra.net
Jimi from HUG

Monday, 14 May 2007

Beyond BBV's: Other injection related infections...

This was a fascinating workshop. It was the first time I had seen a group of presentations focussing on injecting related infections - not because I'd not attended such a thing before - it is more like there has rarely been such a workshop before. Two issues in particular I wanted to flag up here for any injectors or health professionals reading:
Don't lick the fruit!
Risk factors of systemic candidosis among intravenous drug users.
One study was on systemic candida infections in IDU's. Candida is a fungal infection, often attacking when the immune system is low (such as with those with HIV), mostly treated with anti fungal drugs but has the ability to cause some really awful systemic problems. Infecting various areas in the body such as the oesophegeus (sic) heart, bladder, eyes and many other areas, candidosis is primarily preventable using some simple harm reduction tips. Firstly one needs to know that candidosis is a fungus that occurs in lemons - the lemons some of us need to use to mix up our heroin. However, although there are many HR messages that say don't use lemon juice when trying to dissolve gear, the problems seem to come more from people licking the lemon after squeezing it into their gear, then, going on to bite off a piece of filter with their teeth. The candidosis is transmitted more effectively this way - increasing your chance of picking up this infection by 3.8%. Dirty hits were also thought to be a predisposing factor to contracting candidosis, although there was no research into what a 'dirty hit' actually was. The other area that spread candidosis to IDU's was from - yep - licking your spike before a hit, a habit I hope is on the decrease as we have more germs in our mouths than our arse...Or so I read somewhere! Interesting stuff. Look on the IHRA website for the session as titled above (session was as titled above, on monday, 2-3.30). So if you must use lemon, and it isn't advisable at all if you can possibly help it, dont lick it after you cut it open to then squeeze it into you spoon/gear. Don't lick your spike or needle end before injecting, especially if lemons were involved, and - stay tuned to the BP site as we will put up some info on signs of candidosis and things to watch out for, ways its treated and HR methods to avoid it happening to you.

And How We Weep... Wound and leg ulcer management for injecting IDU's by Marie White from Rochdale CDT, UK.
This was an excellent presentation, and the whole room was deeply interested. No doubt because again there is very very rarely, if ever, any information on leg ulcers as they present in IV drug users. There was a lot in this presentation and something we at BP are determined to red flag upon our return to Britain. Ulcers, particularly leg ulcers affect IV users big time, especcially those who are a little older - saying that I have seen them in users in their 20's. Primarily they occur when damage to the backflow valves in the legs, prevent the blood flowing back up the body to the heart. Once damage to these valves is done, it is not repairable and a pooling of blood and waste products spread out along the leg. Often appearing as a discoloured area or sensitve, coloured patch, they can burst into a ulcer from either being used as an injection site, or appearing years later, after injecting has stopped. But what was abundantly clear was that needle exchanges must have nurses who can carry out wound management, offer compression stockings, and preferably do home visits to those unable to come in to the clinic. All to often injectors might not have access to the right health interventions ulcers need (lack of experience at A&E depts, unable to return for further investigations,) or wont go to their GP for fear of losing their injectable prescriptions, being discovered they are injecting when they are not 'supposed' to be, being embarrassed at the site their ulcers have become, parlyzed as to how to deal with it, or they may even continue on trying to treat it themselves. The financial implications were also very clear. The cost of sending someone to an A&E dept far outweighed the cost of treating them at an NEP. And to not treat a leg ulcer? Well, what are the financial, social and psycological costs of someone losing their leg? The fact is IF YOU ARE NOT TREATING THE UNDERLYING PHYSIOLOGY (the venous circulation) LEG ULCERS WILL NOT HEAL ON THEIR OWN. One case study showed a woman who had been self treating her ulcer for 10 years. Her ulcer has opened 10 years previously and had never healed properly and was now, when she presented at the NEP (Rochdale CDT) it was a very large, open, weeping and very painful wound. She was using more street heroin and other drugs in order to self medicate for pain (we know how hard legal pain relief is to get for IVDU's) and eventually stopped attending even the NEP because she couldn't walk up the hill. We can see here the knock on effects of not treating these wounds in an anonymous, confidential manner - people can even stop going out of their house and the next stop could be losing their leg altogether.) Soon though, the terrific Marie (who presented this excellent presentation) managed to get to see her for home visists and with 14 weeks the ulcer had decreased dramatically in size and was substatially improved. There were many issues and interesting HR factors that popped up here and I would really recommend anyone with a connection with healthcare for users - get in touch with marie for more information. The UK organisation Exchange Supplies (www.exchangesupplies.org.uk) will be holding training in wound management in Glasgow in Dec 2007. Mite be worth chatting to them too or certainly attending their training day - which is open to users as well as health professionals might I add.
And there was more - much more that went on today...However my eyelids are starting to shift to red horizontal and a cuppa tea calls me to relax before a deep, sound sleep. Maybe I mite check out a bit ofpolish telly - I caught some this morning as I was waking up and I just could NOT get over the amount of pharmaceutical drug adverts! Every second ad was for constipation, hayfever, Irritable bowel syndrome, etc etc etc! What's the stoy there I wonder? Adios, till tomoorw when I hope to bring you snippets from a truely fascinating interview with the executive director of LEAP - Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Jack Cole is the most amazingly lovely and committed man who speaks the most sense you may ever hear all year... Stay tuned. G'nite from Warsaw.

The UK crew - Taking news back home: Video link

Well, the energy, the sessions and the interest in the topics up for discussion has all stepped up the pace. 1000 people are networking, talking, debating and presenting a whole range of fascinating subjects, research, projects and ideologies. The Uk gang are working hard, all meeting up at least twice a day to run through the conference programme, allocating reps to workshops and plenarys, collating and recording our thoughts and documenting how such issues could help improve harm reduction in the UK. Sadly one member (we all send you our hugs and best wishes P) is laid up with an infection - something we users can't seem to escape even in Poland...We hope he gets better quickly xxx . There was supposed to be a doctor here somewhere to sort out these things for the user contingents....

The NTA, I must mention, has been a real support to this endeavour, only as little as 2 years ago the idea of the government taking 11 user activists overseas to a huge worldwide conference - would have been a complete non starter. It just goes to show how hard we have all worked to build bridges - not just regionally, but at national levels to. Three cheers to all of us and everyone who's been fighting and working so hard back in the UK. It is our combined attitude and experience that has got us here today - the largest contingent of user activists to be funded by a government body in the entire conference...Perhaps the world. Wicked stuff!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Mixing it up in Warsaw - Where there is smoke theres...bubbles?

Link to a new youtube video later tonite...
After living in London for years, the seeking out of a another nations gay bar wasn't exactly feeling like a leap into the unknown. A gay bar is a gay bar is a gay bar...isn't it?
Well, the one my pal and I visited (still on our first nite in Warsaw) we felt was something rather unique. Gay men, lesbians and bisexuals happily - naturally - danced, drank and socialised together without the covert - or even overt hierarchical system that often ensconces gay clubs and bars. It wasn't a gay men's bar that 'allowed lesbians in' some days of the week. It wasn't even a gay bar that quietly disapproved of its bisexual elements but let them occasionally slip through the door (like in London for example).

No, this was a place that celebrated the diversity of sexuality - that gayness didn't seem to put you into a box so much as let you out of one. The club had 6 floors. The basement had a funky dancefloor, next to which was a mixed sex Jacuzzi, full of overflowing bubble bath, with those soaking chatting to those just hanging around. It felt like everybody was welcome. The other floors consisted of chill out, bar area, another dance floor - and the top floor - which suprised us the most - no doubt about it - was the mixed sex 'darkroom'. For those unfamiliar with the term, a darkroom is where a room is made PITCH BLACK for people to enter for sex with the unknown. Its all touchy, feely, lube laden orifices exposed for the taking. There was a beautiful young woman that sat at the base of the stairwell leading up to the room, taking the first names of everyone who entered so they could know at any one time who and how many were inside - how many males, females etc. She sat next to a few boxes of condoms, however was sufficiently ignorant of their clear usefulness to all those taking the 'D' stairwell, that it made me ask the 'H' question. 'Are people aware enough of HIV to take on messages about the importance of condom use? - Do people actually pick up these condoms on their way up the stairs? ' The Beautiful Woman shifted uncomfortably in her chair before saying, "Well, no...I mean - I don't like condoms with sex, it is better without them! Everybody thinks so! Why? Don't you agree also?' She gave my friend and I a quizzical look then it was our turn to shift uncomfortably on our chairs. But don't you know that condoms prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections? Do people talk about this much in Poland? The Beautiful Woman looked directly at us before answering very seriously, no. People don't talk about it, indeed HIV sounded like a a far off drama being played out in Africa somewhere and was certainly not a real or live issue for the youth of Warsaw. It wasn't translating well, even for a drama of this magnitude. I felt myself feeling shocked at not just the naivete of this response, but also the sheer confidence in which it was spoken. As we talked, boys, girls, gays, bi's and lesbians all passed in front of us to head up the stairwell, never once did anyone ask for a condoms, and all night the 2 boxes that sat on the windowsill, stayed there...

I am intrigued to hear more about sexual health in Poland - what the stats show, what the effects of such intense respect for the Pope and Catholicism has had on rates of HIV, teenage pregnancy, STD's and condom messages. Incredibly, or maybe not so, messages that still haven't been picked up even by those living on the furthermost edges of acceptance from the church they've grown up with. BP will aim to dig up such stats from Poland throughout this conference where there are many Polish health and drug workers and drug user activists ready to shed some light on this 'dark' (room) subject. We'll keep you posted.

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Warsaw starts chatting to BP.

Saturday afternoon: 30 hours of sussing out the locals... (Approx 16 hours till conference kick off). As the conference hotel starts filling up with the busy humm of doctors, drug workers, drug user activists, researchers, psychiatrists etc I made for a quick and quiet exit - there'd be plenty of time for talk later, but right now we had a Cannabis Rally to attend to...Taxi! Warsaw Centrum!

But just before I dispense todays bloggspot, let me try and set the scene a little with some 'Observations on Poland', as captured through hazy London eyes...

Warsaw at nite...
We walked around for many hours last nite, and personally, I sensed a city that was young -though perhaps a little unsure - despite its vast age. It clearly valued very highly its education system (Polish university education is well known for its quality and it is certainly appreciated in this city). It was tied extremely tightly to its Polish cultural roots - music and Polish heritage seem completely intwined, inseperable - Frederick Chopin is no ghost here, he is clearly 'The Man Most Admired'. After the city's almost total flattening at the hands of the Germans in the war, Warsaw has attempted to rebuild itself, brick by painstaking brick, in the exact copy of its citys predesessor. It is succeeding admirably. In places such as 'The Old Town' a walk through the square and you can almost hear the comings and goings of centuries of nobility, as Chopin himself plays out through the shuttered windows overlooking this amazingly rebuilt section of Warsaw.

After speaking with some students, it was clear they also valued their education above most things (alongside music) and it was refreshing to see students being able to spread out and really OWN their city and their space. A student festival was in motion (celebrations before the exams come round) and Warsaws young people just overtook a whole section of the city, hotly discussing, drinking and dancing the night away. Their was a little smell of dope in the air, not much but more on that to come (see the Cannabis Rally next). They talked of drug use when questioned as something very hidden, there certainly was no streets or areas where drug users scored or hung out. It was kept quiet, drug users were stereotyped as in most places, and most of the population were totally ignorant to the term harm reduction. A chat with the cannabis rallz people the following day would tell us for every 20 users getting help with their addiction, 1000 were waiting right behind them. However, faces regularly looked blank when asked about the drug problem in Polish prisons, or how many people were in prison for drugs. With the government owning the vast majority of Polish TV, facts would get hard to come by here.

What was strange though, it seemed it was not the years of being besieged or conquored that had left a scar on Warsaw so much as the deep, deep wound (I would call it a trauma to the psyche of the nation) instilled in the city by the final, entire flattening of the city by Germany in the 2nd world war. It was actually palpable. A city so traumatised by the smashing up of everything it held dear and the detailed, meticulous care and attention that continues to go into rebuilding it piece by piece. A nationa desperation to restore its history but also this tragic understanding that when history such as this is lost - can it ever really be replaced? It is gone and gone forever...

With a plan to have Warsaw erased from the map of Europe altogether, 84% of its buildings were destroyed, and 650,000 people were killed in Warsaw alone and the Polish people were physically, and perhaps for a time spiritually, crushed. Warsaw could appear to be sufferring from post traumatic stress, perhaps helped by a strong belief in itself and its culture yet held back by a fear of the unknown, of a rebellion, of the tackling of modern issues in a 21st century way. The conservative catholism that currently has a neat stranglehold on the country just serves to maintain the trend of a city held so tightly by the constricts of its government, it will never collapse in a cloud again.

Next, an update on Polish sex and their awareness (or not) of HIV. We visit a gay bar and talk smoking and growing dope with the Free Hemp rally organisers....

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Video: Introduction to our trip to Warsaw

This is a short YOUTUBE video, briefly talking about why we are going to Poland and what we'll get up to there. Please Click to start or click the title link for a direct link to the YOUTUBE site and video.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Please feel free to comment or request BP to seek out information based on the conference programme at the IHRA website (www.ihra.net)
IHRA in POLAND: On the 11th May 2007 BP will be travelling with a UK contingent of 11 user activists and staff from the UK's National Treatment Agency to cover the world's largest harm reduction conference. BP will be compiling coverage of the launch of the world's first International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) and will be interviewing and recording shorts and interviews with some fascinating people on drug related topics of interest. Stay tuned...

Black Poppy travels to Poland

Black Poppy Magazine is a health a lifestyle magazine for the drug using community. Written and created by people who use drugs - for people who use drugs, BP is a unique and essential port of call for any drug user. Our hard copy magazine is based in the UK and focuses on drug culture, drug policies /politics and drug history; we look at what we are using and how we are using it - striving to keep us updated and better informed, thus making safer decisions around drug use as well as being activists in our own communities.
Our e-zine (www.blackpoppy.org.uk) covers all the best bits from our magazine - the personal experiences (the good & the bad & the ugly), articles on overdose prevention, addiction and treatment, health and harm reduction issues for drug users, safer injecting information, the drugs we're using; benzos, opiates, stimulants, crack, coke, speed etc, and of course the hallucinogens, organic and synthetic - and some you haven't ever heard of.
Our Blogg and YOUTUBE channel will be a place to upload clips from BP's 'Drug Diaries' - our interviews, travels and recordings of fascinating drug related issues. Our first stop is the 18th International Harm Reduction Conference in Warsaw, Poland . On the 11th May 2007 Black Poppy goes to Poland, where we will be meeting up with all the latest news, views, research and opinion from harm reductionists from all over the globe. BP is particularly looking forward to meeting up with the world's drug user activists - and will be covering the launch of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) for our readers in the UK. BP will be recording video and bloggs of the event. If there is anything you would like BP to find out more about, (see the IHRA website http://www.ihra.net for conference/programme details), please email or comment here.