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Jun 10, 2008

Speech of DU Activist Mr. Alik Zaripov, Russian civil society representative of people who use drugs (New York, June 10, 2008)

Live broadcast: Civil Society Hearing 11am - 1pm June 10:
Vitaly, Masha & Alik Zaripov, preparing Alic's speech (Sunday June 8, 2008)

Dear Colleagues,

My name is Alik Zaripov and I am from Russia.

I am not going to quote statistics or criticize the drug treatment system in my country. This won’t help my friends who use drugs, nor will it help those who have died because of drugs. I simply want to tell you my story.

I began to use drugs in 1996. My friends started using drugs at the same time as me; there were 12 of us altogether.

I was stopped by the police many times because of injection marks on my arms. I didn’t trust the state institutions—how could I? I was “a drug addict”! There was one harm reduction project in the entire city and even then, it was on other side of the city and I had no way of getting there.

Five years after I first started to inject drugs—in 2001—I tested positive for HIV; I began to actively seek help in order to stop using drugs. I turned to doctors who gave me useless advice. They would say to me: “You want help? Then you need to get registered as a drug user.” “Get registered?” I thought to myself, “so that my personal information could be available to
everyone? No way. I definitely need help, but I don’t need anymore problems in my life!”

Neither I, nor my family had the money for drug treatment. But I got lucky. Thanks to the organization where I work, I was able to go through detoxification and rehabilitation free of charge.

I had been sober for about a year and my life was beginning to take shape—I began to set goals, wanted to begin my studies at the university, start a family, and get a driver’s license. It was then that I suddenly found out that I had been registered as a drug user in the database.

Do you know what my first thought was? “My past will always follow me like a shadow. How can I become part of this society, when I have already been labeled as a ‘drug addict’ and my future employers will be able to access this information?” I decided that all of my attempts at a normal life were useless—I figured I might as well start using drugs again, because I would never achieve anything in life.

But I didn’t relapse that day and, as I later understood, that saved me. I am certain had I used that day, I would now be either in prison, in the hospital, or dead.

This is my story. There were 12 of us altogether, but I was the only one who quit drugs. Three died of drug overdoses. Seven continue to use to this day. All of them have gone through every single drug treatment program available in our city. Their parents have long turned away from them. Some of them, like me, are living with HIV. All of them have Hepatitis C. Two have children, but they continue to use and they can’t quit!

This story is about me and my 11 friends. But such stories are numerous throughout the world. Millions of people who use drugs are suffering, unable to access basic healthcare services. Millions of people are persecuted by the police. Hundreds of thousands are imprisoned, their only crime being that they use drugs. Hundreds of thousands of people who use drugs die each year of drug overdoses, tuberculosis and HIV-related infections.

I am certain that many of their problems could be effectively addressed through harm reduction programs and opiate substitution therapy. Yet, despite the evidence pointing to the effectiveness of harm reduction in reducing the risk of HIV infection, despite the fact that methadone and buprenorphine are included on WHO’s list of essential medicines, needle exchange programs and opiate substitution therapy remain unavailable for the overwhelming majority of the people who need them. And for drug users who are HIV positive, access to ARVs remains limited. We are told that, as patients, we are too complicated, while no assistance is offered to solve the many other problems we face. Treatment of HIV is not just about distribution of medications!

So what is the world waiting for? What is the United Nations waiting for? Universal access means including all people in need! Maybe the issue is the fact that it’s the law enforcement and not the healthcare agencies that deal with injecting drug users?

Maybe it’s time to change the process by which the global drug policy is shaped? I think that we, the people who are living with HIV, people who use drugs and other representatives of civil society have to be actively engaged in this process. Our active participation is needed so that global drug policies take into account the issues of health and human rights, so that harm reduction, substitution therapy, treatment, and rehabilitation are finally prioritized.

The price of our inaction—the lost lives of our friends.

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