Address by Brent Allan, CEO Living Positive Victoria as part of the HIV Sector Roundtable on Crystal Meth

Address delivered by Living Positive Victoria CEO, Brent Allan, to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Inquiry into crystal methamphetamine PUBLIC HEARING on Wednesday 29 July 2015:

“Thank you Mr Chair and to committee members for the invitation to address this public hearing.

As a member of the leadership team at Living Positive Victoria our mission to support, advocate and champion PLHIV as central and vital in the collective effort to end HIV in Australia.

My opening remarks encourage a reflection and consideration of how a collective, bipartisan partnership response (which acknowledges the voice and action of affected communities as powerful agents of social change), to a complex social and health issue has already been led and modelled by Australia.

It is without question that Australia is internationally renowned for having one of the most contained HIV epidemics in the developed world and this is due to one simple fact – Australia acted early in the HIV epidemic to implement pragmatic non- judgmental public health and social action interventions such as wide spread NSP, community led education and support services as well as risk and harm reduction advice predicated upon community knowledge and achieved this in the context of widespread community fear of HIV and PLHIV often fuelled by misinformation and stigma.

The success of the Australian HIV response embodies social action on health it is an example of what can be gained when pragmatism trumps moralism, when the voices and experiences of affected communities are harnessed to support not punish, when the reaction of those in power and authority to enact punitive laws is set aside in favour of promoting health and wellbeing, human rights and civil liberties because further marginalizing already marginalized communities is unethical, unjust and unfair.

However, effective social action on health can be easily diminished when community fears are fuelled by ill-informed political rhetoric and media hysteria for this not only creates a platform for misinformation it exacerbates the shaming, silencing and marginalisation of the people most in need of health promotion, social programs and community building services.

PLHIV know all too well the damaging effects of shame, silence and stigma and we stand in solidarity with our community members facing the same effects because they are a person who uses illicit or recreational drugs such as methamphetamines.

But unlike methamphetamine users, PLHIV have access to education and health promotion resources which speak to them about ways to reduce risks and harms in their lives and much of this often comes directly from the lived experiences of others living with HIV.

But where are these resources for people using methamphetamines so that they can learn from their peers’ experiences in order to reduce the risk and harms of their use?
Where is the political will to endorse community-led peer programs and the investment in community leaders to support and advise upon research, policies and strategies to divert people from the harms and risks of use before it can become problematic?

And how do we even open a community dialogue that acknowledges that drug use is not a social evil or a personal failure and its presence is ubiquitous across our communities; and although its form and nature may change – it is how we educate, inform and support our communities which mitigates and minimizes any potential personal or social harms from drug use.

So why is it that we continue to tolerate the misinformation and absence of quality targeted harm reduction resources on meth and the stereotyping of people who use it?
Australia must recognize that is has a model of international best practice which has demonstrated how to tackle complex social and health issues and it is not predicated upon silencing and shaming affected communities or denying community harm reduction education, information and support programs.

I fear that an effective and coordinated national policy is being negatively affected by a political tone and media response that promotes a narrative of fear and a seemingly blinkered view to continue to promote failed drug law and health policy responses.
We know that investments in scaling up community leadership and mobilization creates market appropriate and accessible information and support programs so that people at risk of harm are not left trying to figure out for themselves strategies what should be available without judgment or condemnation or the censorship from those to whom these services are not directed.

We must urgently change the current community dialogue which continues to scapegoat those who use methamphetamine to a more informed and sophisticated discussion across the jurisdictions of justice, health and education which acknowledges use, encourages responsible use and equips people with the knowledge and skills to use safely.

It’s ironic that Australia’s early response to HIV was, and at the time, seen by some as “permissive” and that enabling marginalised communities such as gay men to run community-led education and support was seemingly contrary to the prevailing notion that only sound professional respected direction provided by experts and authorities was needed in such urgent and dire circumstances such as HIV.

I believe that our challenge is this – are we brave enough to enable and equip yet another marginalized community – people who use drugs to respond to the gaps in education, treatment, care and support using their community wisdom and insights like we did with the Australian response to HIV or will we continue to support political fear mongering and scapegoating until the solutions are well and truly out of reach.

If we do not rise to this challenge the result will be more people unable and without the ability to identify and understand successful harm reduction strategies and the real control over their own use.”

Address by Brent Allan, CEO Living Positive Victoria as part of the HIV Sector Roundtable including Linda Forbes (AFAO), Nicolas Parkhill (ACON), Tony Maynard (NAPWHA) and Craig Cooper (Positive Life NSW).

More information about Living Positive Victoria’s position, information and services around crystal use can be found here.

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