Drugs and harm reduction at the International AIDS Conferences
It was not until the 1993 AIDS conference in Berlin that a person who uses drugs openly living with HIV was given the opportunity to address a plenary of the International AIDS Conference. That was John Mourdant, who repeatedly used the refrain in his plenary address “There is no war on drugs. There is and always has been a war on drug users.” He also said, “Each drug user in every country that I know of, is attacked daily, with publicly funded messages which proclaim that he or she is emotionally unavailable, irresponsible and incompetent – if not plain evil and an enemy of decent citizens.” John died in March 1995. John started many initiatives in the UK and internationally, including the UK Coalition of People Living with HIV, and Mainliners and more can be read about him here which is an excerpt from his book ‘Facing up to AIDS’.
The HIV response, and subsequent International AIDS Conferences, have been more inclusive of people who use drugs and more supportive of their concerns and harm reduction issues since 1993 and John’s speech.
To look out for in the Global Village is the work of Drug Reporter and they will also be screening their award-winning movie ‘A day in the Life’ in the Eastern-European Community Zone on Monday evening, and presenting a workshop on Tuesday at 16:00 in the Harm Reduction Networking Zone introducing their work.
In the plenary session on Tuesday, 24 July Breaking barriers of inequity in the HIV response, Olena Stryzhak (from the Ukraine) who has been living with HIV for 17 years will be speaking as a representative of the community of women who use drugs and representing the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region of the International Community Women Living with HIV. Olena is a dynamic speaker and this session should not be missed. Of note, all plenary sessions can also be viewed on screen in the Global Village if you are unable to make it into the main plenary room.
Harm reduction services at the conference
The AIDS 2018 website has a great deal of useful information about harm reduction services at the conference and in Amsterdam generally. This information can be accessed here.
Drug use in Amsterdam and the Netherlands
Amsterdam has a reputation for being a place ‘where anything goes’ – especially in relation to ‘liberal’ dug laws. However, this does mean that some first-time visitors to the city often get into trouble. So here is some useful information to stay safe in addition to the information available on the conference website.*
While it is not (strictly speaking) legal, ‘soft’ drug use is absolutely tolerated.
You can purchase, be in possession of, and consume up to 5 grams of weed, hashish, pot, marijuana at any one time. However, it is not legal to light up a joint anywhere as if it were a cigarette.
The drugs available in Amsterdam may well be more potent than you are used to at home.
Like in all places, dealing and buying drugs on the street is fraught with danger and is strictly illegal. You may get ground up aspirin, you may get something extremely toxic and NOT what you wanted at all
All drugs other than those that are tolerated (marijuana) are forbidden even for personal use (such as cocaine, LSD, morphine, heroin, Tina, MDMA, etc.).
If you need help or get into trouble when using any drug, remember to call 112. Medics will not call the police – they will deal with the medical issues at hand so you don’t need to worry.
A useful and informative clip is available here. And other relevant info is here.
* This advice should in no way be seen as promoting the use of drugs.