What is a User Group?

By Andria Efthimiou-Mordaunt

JUNE 2007 • Issue 5

An excerpt from “Junkies in the House of the Lord,” a dissertation about drug user organizing written in 2004 for the master’s program in Social Policy and Planning at the London School of Economics.

Drugs users, illegal or prescribed, have developed many models of self-organisation, but their great diversity in size and function can make definition difficult. A group could consist of as few as three people focusing on local improvement of their drug treatment services (REFORM in London) to larger Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), with sufficient funding to pay employees, e.g., the Drug Users Advocacy Group in Amsterdam (MDHG), who also lobby on a national level. Albeit that some User activists are salaried, it should be clear that the majority in this research, and in general, are volunteers. The reasons for this range from a lack of skills, confidence or consistent good health to the State undervaluing their inputs as politically unacceptable or lacking in therapeutic substance. Drug users are often led to believe that they ‘owe’ something to society, thus establishing the notion that they
do not deserve salaries, not to mention the fact that known drug users experience overt and covert employment discrimination, (less likely to be an issue in the drugs field.)

In their article “Defining the Drug User” (1998), Balian and White differentiate between “recreational users” and users who appear to have lost the choice to recreationally use. They challenge ex-users who desire union membership to consider whether they are “strong” enough to be around active drug users without lapsing, and to take responsibility for the lapse should it happen. M. Southwell, founder of the National Drug Users Development Agency (U.K./NDUDA) also offers a definition: “Drug users, who may/may not have used treatment services, but have worked within the established user groups, and related activism.”

I will define User Groups as, “A group of ex/current criminalised drug users who try to improve the quality of their lives and of their wider communities by campaigning for local and/or national drug policies, which typically work towards reducing the death, disease and (where possible) crime, related to illicit drug use.”

Download the complete dissertation at the Canadian Harm Reduction Network.

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Filed under Drug users' rights, harm reduction, Solidarity Project, stigma, Uncategorized

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