For this interview i sat down and talked with Jamie Bridge, from HRI & IDPC, about the HRI conference and user involvement, among other things.
The HRI Conference in Vilnius has just finished. What are your impressions from the conference?
I thought it went really well, there were around 800 participants from all over the world – and the engagement of people who use drugs was noticeably strong too. The whole event had a really positive feeling – it was great to see so many people connecting, reconnecting, sharing experiences and learning from one another. For the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), it was also a very successful event – we were able to further promote the SUPPORT DON’T PUNISH campaign (www.supportdontpunish.org), and build up momentum for the ‘Global Day of Action’ which took place on June 26th. We also held a meeting for our members at the conference, which was a great opportunity to share some of the latest news with them all.
Do you see a problem with these conferences that they become just a showcase for professor and researchers and exclude users?
The conference has always tried to balance the programme in terms of science, policy and practice. I have been on the Programme Committee for HRI for the last few years, and I admit we have not always got the balance right. But, for me, there was a nice balance in Vilnius – certainly in the sessions that I saw. There were some great abstracts submitted from all different perspectives, and people seemed happy with the programme overall, in fact, I think some researchers were upset that there was not more scientific content.
How do IDPC work with user involvement and what do you do to empower drug users to begin speaking out.
At the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), our work is fundamentally guided by five core principles: one of which is that “Policy and activities should seek to promote the social inclusion of marginalised groups, and not focus on punitive measures towards them”. We have a deep-rooted belief that people who use drugs need to be empowered and engaged throughout any policy development process – and this is something that is reflected in our work. We work closely with the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) on various projects and activities, and are proud to have several other regional and national networks as members – including SDUU! Whenever we can, we help to ensure that these groups are meaningfully engaged in advocacy and debates – whether it be through campaigns like SUPPORT DON’T PUNISH, through attendance at international conferences and meetings, or through organising national-level workshops and seminars.
In what way are you working on Naloxone?
Although we have yet to produce any IDPC work specifically on Naloxone, this is an issue that is very much in our minds – the fact that so many people who use drugs continue to die when an effective, affordable ‘cure’ exists for opioid overdoses is just another example of how global drug prohibition and the ‘war on drugs’ have proven to be a public health disaster. We support our partners – such as INPUD, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network, and HRI – to keep pushing this agenda, including with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, leading to the recent release of their new guidelines on overdose prevention and management.
In what way are you working on hepatitis C?
As with overdoses, the on-going transmission and death rates from hepatitis C are another example of how global drug policies are failing. In May this year, the Global Commission on Drug Policy launched a report on hepatitis and the war on drugs – which I was fortunate enough to co-author alongside Dr Philip Bruggmann from Zurich. This report emphasises how the war on drugs has fuelled hepatitis C transmission among people who use drugs, and how it continues to prevent them from having access to the prevention, testing and treatment services that they need. Of the 16 million people who inject drugs around the world, around 10 million are living with hepatitis C, and that is simply unacceptable.
What differences or similarities do you see between combatting hepatitis C, compared to the fight against HIV, TB and Malaria for example?
There are obvious similarities between hepatitis C and HIV in particular, as – for people who inject drugs – the routes and mechanics of transmission are almost identical. The key point from a public health perspective is that if you offer harm reduction services, such as needle and syringe programmes, at the scale needed to prevent hepatitis C, then you will also be doing enough to prevent HIV as well, whereas the opposite is not necessary true – as hepatitis C is more infectious and easy to transmit than HIV.
One of the most important differences between hepatitis C and those other diseases, is the level of attention it receives. Compared to HIV, for example, the general awareness of hepatitis C is very low and it is simply ignored on the political level in most countries. It is really hard to explain why this is the case – but it is something that has to be resolved in order to really start changing policies. With more attention, we could advocate stronger for more funding, better services, for scale-up, and for reductions in the price of treatments.