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A statement from NZ NGOs delivered a statement to the 61st Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in Vienna on Friday 16 March 2018. Kathryn Leafe, Director of the NZ Needle Exchange Programme, made the comments at the official gathering of countries discussing global drug control.
The full text of the NZ NGO statement follows:
We extend our thanks to the CND for creating the space for civil society engagement and to the chair to make this statement.
As non-government organisations in New Zealand we welcome the opportunity to participate with colleagues from across the international community. Whilst based many miles away from deliberations in Vienna we are committed to being actively engaged with civil society colleagues, international bodies and government. We acknowledge and welcome the resolutions particularly from Canada and Australia. We support the statement from our government to CND this year and commit to continuing our joint working.
There has been much debate regarding language during this CND. Deliberations on language are integral to the formulation of resolutions and finding consensus on key issues. There has also been substantial discussion on stigma and discrimination, particularly with regard to terminology and the role it plays in the formulation of policy.
We welcome the Global Drug Policy Commissions Report “The Drug Perception Problem” and recommendations regarding use of language when talking about drug use and people who use drugs.
We wish to respectfully highlight the influence that our individual values and beliefs play, and which generate powerful undercurrents underpinning perspectives taken at an individual and societal level. Throughout the last few days we have consistently heard phrases such as “they”, “them”, “those people” and “addicts in our society”.
If we are to successfully address stigma and discrimination we believe we need a shift in mindset. Aside from cultural, societal and religious differences when we continue to see people who use drugs as “other” and as separate to ourselves then we will never address stigma and discrimination in any meaningful way.
We need a change in mindset and recognise that we all use psychoactive substances whether they are legal or illegal. It is in the space between ourselves and people who have different experiences to us that prejudice grows. It is not until we start to see that we are all more alike than unalike that stigma and discrimination can be effectively addressed. Building our understanding of our own and others lives is the foundation of a society based on compassion, empathy and understanding.
We must recognise that drug use takes many forms, in the vast majority of cases the use of drugs does not lead to problematic use or dependency. Drug use cuts across all society, we have never had a “drug free world”, all societies and civilisations have used substances in one form or other.
Drug use is in this sense normal.
It is also important to acknowledge that people who use drugs are not only “those people” and that even here at CND people who use drugs are present in many different ways and not just in the groups representing user networks. We believe we need to build a society in which we have a world free of drug harms. If we are to achieve this we must address stigma and discrimination, develop and our mature our thinking about drug use.
We recognise that stigma and prejudice towards drug use and people who use drugs can compound existing stigma and discrimination experienced by those who are socially and economically marginalised.
Therefore in our own country our first people, our Māori communities bear a disproportionate burden of problematic use. It is essential to acknowledge that drug use and drug use problems are complex and not the result of a moral weakness, failing or illness but a complex interaction of factors including oppression, colonisation, discrimination, trauma and social injustice.
It is essential if we are to successfully build a world free from drug harms that we heed the words of a Māori proverb – He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata – what is the most important thing, it is people it is people it is people.