In the last couple of years, my focus has been on pill testing/substance checking at events as a way of reducing the harms associated with drug use. It's pretty simple - in an illegal market there is no real quality control and people are not able to know for certain when they ingest something that it is actually what it's supposed to be. We use chemical reagents or infrared spectroscopy to tell people what's in their sample and they can then make an informed decision about how they treat that substance.
I can say with conviction and also with the data to back it, that users of drugs make sensible choices when they have information about what their drugs actually are.
This is what I was doing over New Years, with the help of some friends who are passionate enough to risk being arrested alongside me. I can tell you exactly how many people were able to avoid ingesting something that wasn't what it was supposed to be because of us. How many people who might have died, but didn't.
I will be telling the authorities that.
I can also tell you that if I told you the name of the event, they could be shut down because the law makes them criminals as soon as they admit they know people use drugs at their event.
So providing harm reduction services is essentially illegal. To avoid legal risk they are supposed to turn a blind eye and let people risk death. This is stupid and wrong and there is absolutely no logical reason why we should allow this ridiculous situation to continue.
I will be telling the authorities that too. It won't be the first time.
When we got back into internet range, the first email I opened had news of a good friend and a member of our harm reduction crew, who has been struggling with mental health and addiction problems for several years. I had known he was in a relapse cycle, and over the holidays he took a deliberate overdose of a legal substance and now he is going to die.
There is a lot that can be said about the inability of people with mental health and problematic drug use issues to get the help they need, about the artificial stigma associated with drug use that means users are criminalised instead of helped, about how support agencies are underfunded, about how problematic drug use is most strongly correlated with trauma and social isolation and how our law exacerbates that in the most vulnerable people and the stigma makes them feel even more alone. But you're smart enough to figure that out for yourself, right?
My friend has a heart bigger than Texas. He wanted to expand on our testing service and set up a project that looks after people who are having difficult experiences with drugs. He wanted to use his own struggle to benefit others because he knows what it's like to struggle alone, and he wanted to provide the emotional support that is so lacking for people with problems in this society.
Now, he can't, and he'll never be able to, and I place the blame for a lot of that squarely at the feet of those who continue to perpetuate the stigma around drug use and made him feel so alone in his struggle.
I will be telling the authorities that too. They are doing it wrong and people I love are getting hurt because of it. No more.