On a cold and wet Monday afternoon, AIVL Policy & Project Officer Adrian Gorringe braced the wild weather and joined staff from CAHMA to attend the Family and Friends For Drug Law Reform (FFDLR) (ACT) 27th Annual Remembrance Ceremony.
Bill Bush, president of the ACT Chapter of FFDLR opened the event to a considerable turnout. Despite the weather, people, families, and friends from all walks of life and across many sectors of our community came in large numbers, and the message that death from overdose and drug-related injury affects all parts of our community was very visible.
Mr Bush spoke of the history and purpose of the event, a chance to reflect on the people lost, but also to recognise the significant progress made in drug law reform, particularly in the ACT where the recent passing of a drug decriminalisation bill means that small amounts of drugs; amphetamine, cocaine, meth, MDMA, heroin, cannabis, psilocybin (shrooms, caps) and LSD, are decriminalised. This means that people caught with amounts larger than the decriminalised amount but smaller than trafficable quantities will be subject to fines and drug diversion counselling rather than facing criminal charges.
Mr Bush also instilled a timely reminder that drug law reform and policy is not greenlighting drug use, as the overall purpose is to minimise the harm caused by drugs, this is relevant to society whether you consume illicit drugs or not, as harm reduction principles such as drug checking and NSPs (CNPs in S.A.) create safer communities and environments and reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses.
Marion McConnell a founding member of FFDLR and McKenzie Leecroft gave reflections, both have lost a loved one to overdose. As someone that knows the pain and anguish of losing someone to illicit drugs, my reflection was on the importance of the work conducted by peer-based drug user organisations, harm reduction principles and the importance of getting governments to be more open and accepting of these health measures, ultimately coming to understand that they create safer environments, communities, and save lives. I fought back tears as I asked myself, would my friends, family, and those whose lives have been lost in the community I serve through AIVL still be here or be in better condition if our drug laws and policies were more progressive and the services offered by peer-based drug user organisations were more widely known? Perhaps, perhaps…there is always a ray of hope that they would as well as hope that more people, peers and people in positions of power to make changes for the betterment of society, will continue to advocate for the health and human rights of people who use drugs.
Michael Petterson, MLA, Labor member for Yerrabi gave a most heartfelt address on his experience of losing a family member to drug use. It was refreshing to hear a politician view illicit drug use and the harms associated with it as a public health issue rather than one of the morals, cultural & religious values, or a matter of criminal justice. It gives a great sense of optimism that change for the better is on the horizon as the ACT commits itself to drug policy that connects and supports rather than punishes and divides.
The ceremony ended on a sombre note as names of those lost to illicit drugs were read out, so many of which were taken too young and so many had so much to offer society, if only more sectors of society would see them for the creativity and talents, they hold rather than the image of societal deviance they seemingly portray to some.
Whilst this is a sad occasion, it is an important one. This is a human issue that impacts all parts of society, and whilst sad, it was beautiful to have the lives of so many wonderful people remembered on this day.
To all those in our community lost, and to all those who have lost someone to illicit drugs, may they rest in peace and may their memories live on in our hearts forever.
AIVL is the national organisation representing people who use/have used illicit drugs and is the peak body for the state and territory peer-based drug user organisations.
CEO, AIVL – email firstname.lastname@example.org