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International Drug User Movement



 A brief overview about drug user movement

We are people from around the world who use drugs. We are people who have been marginalized and discriminated. We have been hurt unnecessarily, put in jail, depicted as evil, and stereotyped as dangerous and disposable. Now it is time to raise our voices as to establish our rights and reclaim the right to be our own spokesman striving for self-representation and self empowerment.

(Joergen Kjaer)



Users from illegal drugs donít have a voice. They are not aloud to speak about their habits, needs and demands. And if they do; nobody is listening. Nowadays more and more users are willing to organize themselves into union. Users fight for the right to get information, the medication they need, treatment, and they have to be treated with respect and dignity. This brief overview is the history of drug user movements.


History of Dutch drug user movements

Nico Adriaans was the founder and chairman of the first advocacy/activist user group, Rotterdam Junkie Union (RJB) in the Netherlands in 1977. In this capacity, the Rotterdam Junkie Union played an indispensable role in changing the face and character of Dutch drug policy.

The drug user movement was able to push the discourse of the slowly developing local and national drug policies away from compulsory treatment and philosophies towards acceptance, pragmatism and normalisation. [Jean-Paul Grund in the Ibogaine dossier].  Acceptance of drug use and human rights of drug users were the main goals for the Junkie Union.

In 1977 in Amsterdam the MDHG, Medical-social service for Heroin users, was initiated.  

A mix of drug users, parents of drug users, social workers and other interested people decided to initiate the MDHG, because they couldnít agree with the social and political answer on the epidemic of heroin users. Nobody keeps an eye on heroin users but themselves. Main goal was to fight for the interest of drug users, with as topics:

* Social acceptance of drugs and drug users.

* Decriminalisation on the use of drugs; get drugs out of the law.

* De-psychiatric and de-medication of the drug user.

In 1980 there were 15 local Junkie Unions all over the Netherlands with the same goals; influencing the drug policy. In that days the Junkie Unions organized themselves as a federation; Federation Netherlands Junkie Unions (FNJB).


International developments

At World Aids Day 1990, Werner Hermann, of the Deutsche AIDS Hilfe, arranged a meeting in Berlin of European professionals and user self help groups including RJB. Out of this meeting the European Interest Group of Drug Users, EIGDU, was born. The main aim of this network was to wake up policy-makers-lobbying and encouraging them to accelerate the establishment of Harm Reduction programs, particularly needle exchange programs. This was done by many press conferences and later by the book entitled; Situation for Drug Users in Europe. EIGDU could start their activities because the Deutsche Aids-Hilfe was willing to give a financial support.

EIGDU also wrote and widely distributed declaration of 10 points. EIGDU got professional support from Franz Trautmann. During the Verona meeting in 1992 40 participants from 13 countries came together. The topic from that EIGDU annual meeting was that the black-book was completed and presented for the EIGDU participants. The black-book was a memorandum of the situation of drug users in Europe.  

In 1994 EIGDU had to stop their activities, because there was no funding anymore. However, the idea to organize and contact each other was born. Since the closure of EIGDU, user groups have proliferated all over the world and in Europe in particular. However user unions from Central Eastern Europe participated in EIGDU they didnít get stronger after EIGDU has to stop their activities. During the period that EIGDU exist there has been no progress made in organizing drug users from southern Europe. 

In France ASUD was organized since 1992, and grow up to a national user organization.

At the same time Danish Drug User Union in Denmark was organized. The Danish Drug User Union had their key activities in influencing policymakers.

In Germany drug users organized themselves in JES. JES is a national self-help network on people who takes (or did take) drugs. Keyword is solidarity.

In the Netherlands the experimental AIDS-prevention-project No-Risk started 1989 with practical prevention on injecting drug users. No-Risk, and his users, was the initiators for the safe-use and safe-sex training. However No-Risk was an Aids-prevention project for IV-users this project changed more and more to an interest group of drug users..

In 1992 LSD, the Dutch National Interest Group of Drug Users started as an AIDS-prevention project as well, but had to change this policy after 6 months to an interest group of drug users. LSD was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health for its activities in the Netherlands. One of the main tasks was to create a kind of translation from street voices into policy and the other way around. LSD should bridge the gap. Health promotion for drug users was another main task of the LSD foundation.

In 1996 LSD got some funding from Open Society Institute to support and initiate interest groups of drug users in Central and Eastern Europe.

 User organizations in Slovenia, Croatia, and from former Russian states got structural support from LSD. Not only at the start, but also during the practical work as well.

Small grass roots User organizations in Spain, Italy, Serbia, Macedonia, Slovakia and Tsjech republic were also forming during this period, who were able to consult LSD for practical support with backup from other user organizations in Denmark, France, UK and Germany, who were in close contacts with LSD during this time.

User organizations in Germany, Denmark, France, UK and The Netherlands (In these countries where at that time local drug user organizations were in contact via national networks of user organizations) were discussing how to initiate again an International User Organization.

Drug users support each other in disease prevention, OD prevention, accessing stabilising and life-saving drugs, i.e. substitution treatment information (methadone & Subutex), about living well; with nutritional tips as well as safer use and safer sex reminders, and by creating a new social justice movement.

The differences in goals and the differences between the national situations and laws as well created the situation that the national groups decided not to initiate a European drug user network. The main goals should be to influence decisions makers, and drug users should feel the effect of these influence.

As an alternative for the international network LSD decided to organize an International Drug User Day. Drug users and their organizations could meet and inspire each other. The organization of this IDUD was practical and simple; IDUD should be a congress for drug users; they should learn from each other about safer use, safer sex, interest and how to influence policymakers. The presentations should be done by users from all over Europe. Even non-users could participate in IDUD. Beside drug users many social workers from low threshold projects enjoyed participation in the IDUD. Beside that a lot of policemen were interested in the IDUD happening. For policemen this event was very special moment to get in positive contact with drug users for the very first time.

IDUD (1995-2003) has been organized 8 times. Every time we could organize this even in the Netherlands as an invitational conference. The political situation in the Netherlands (in that time) made it possible to have this event. In 2003 the Danish Drug User Union organized, in cooperation with LSD, IDUD in Denmark.

IDUD always ended the conference with a big party with a band playing up to dance. During the conference and of course during the party people were permitted to take their favourite drug and show their habits openly. We invited some dealers to service the users gathered at IDUD with a good quality and price relation. For those users who would like to inject, IDUD organized an injection room with a medical doctor, and for those who would like to smoke it was allowed to do that and take their drugs in the plenary room. In this plenary room, nurses were available. During all the conferences we never had any accidents or fatal ODís.

As an extra activity we hand out the so called Dr. Alderwright Award to honour the most user friendly initiative of the year. In IDUD, users from 24 different countries participated, for some of them it was a shock to see how open and peaceful this event was possible to be.

Policemen were walking around talking to users, nurses, dealers and social workers. Drugs are a fact and needs to be accepted as a fact. Just like drug users.

The IHRA - International Harm Reduction Association Conferences has over the last 17 years been growing in popularity and worked as a possible annual gathering point for user activists from most countries. The IHRA has been very supportive granting scholarships to many user activists especially from the less economically developed countries. The IHRA conferences have therefore also been a very important stage for user advocates and user activists to raise their voices and spread their opinions both publicly and internationally.

The need to meet each other, from all over the world, is still there. We realize that we need a strong and practical drug user movement to create a justified drugs law, based on facts in stead of emotions.

During the early beginning of user union in Europe there is the need to have a powerful international drug user movement. This international drug user movement needs to have a clear goals, and a strong and respectful leader. A person who will be respected as a user and who is able to bridge the gab for users all over the world. This person needs to have a broad overview about national differences in drug laws and drug scenes. The new leader needs to create an open discussion about the tasks to be done.


For this;



Theo van Dam   

March 2007