People who use drugs ≠ “addicts”. Stop the labelling.

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November 1st is International Drug Users Day, we stand in solidarity with millions of people using drugs who live their daily lives in harsh, extremely risky environments accentuated by the threat of hunger, disease and death and acknowledge those who support and uphold the dignity and rights of people who use drugs.

It is a common misconception that people who use drugs are either addicted, dependent or suffering from substance use disorders and therefore require some form of treatment or other. It is a fact however, that nine out of ten persons who have used drugs are not addicted, dependent or suffer any substance use disorders. The vast majority of people who use drugs for recreation and depending on their socio economic position, may or may not ever require health, financial or legal support. But in a country like ours where millions of people use drugs, ensuring that the one tenth who require support can receive it remains a challenge.

According to available data, 11.08 Million people use drugs in India, out of which at least 10 percent are in need of information and services that are either out of reach or grossly inadequate. But even if services were to be made available, who and how would one ensure access to services in a criminalised environment where a person using drugs fears arrest on the way to or from the facility?

In India, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Act incriminates people who uses drugs and they are at the receiving end of an already overburdened criminal justice system that has no mechanism to adequately respond to their needs. The term ‘drug addict’ is offensive, it labels, stigmatises and undermines the dignity of the individual as well as the family often leading to reduced self-esteem, low levels of self-confidence or motivation.

On this International Drug Users Day, let us commit to making a difference in the lives of people who use drugs and their families by ensuring that their health needs are addressed and their human rights are respected.

Let us remind ourselves that every person who uses drugs is someone’s parent, child, sibling or friend.

The author of the blog is Mr. Simon Beddoe, Regional Manager Advocacy – Asia: Drug Use & Harm Reduction, India HIV/AIDS Alliance

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