Lived experience at the service of the drug policy reform movement – Ernesto’s story

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Ernesto Cortés is a person who uses drugs and a harm reductionist. He started to delve in these topics over 10 years ago, starting with his undergraduate research in social anthropology in 2009, followed by his master’s degree in criminology with an emphasis on human security in 2011 and another master’s degree in mental health in 2013. Having worked for 4 years (2010 to 2014) in the research area of the Costa Rican Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (IAFA).

From the beginning he has also been an activist for drug policy reform, as a founding member of the Costa Rican Association for the Study and Intervention on Drugs (ACEID) in 2012, which organised the V Latin American Conference on Drug Policy in 2014 together with CONFEDROGAS. In the same year he joined the Research Collective on Drugs and Rights (Colectivo de Estudios de Drogas y Derechos – CEDD) as a researcher, as a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of People who Use Drugs (LANPUD) and was elected as the Latin American focal point of the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).

In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) was held in New York City, and Ernesto participated as a civil society representative in the Costa Rican national delegation. This also thanks to the fact that he participated in regular sessions of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019. At these spaces, ACEID has organised a few side events with IDPC, the Transnational Institute. Intercambios A.C., and the Costa Rican Delegation in Vienna, among others.

All these experiences, plus the possibilities to participate in different international conferences and visit harm reduction projects in many parts of the world, led him to reflect on his personal experience as a drug user. So, in 2018 he decided to dedicate more time to the Latin American and Caribbean Network of People who Use Drugs (LANPUD) and in 2019 he became its Secretary-General.

LANPUD currently has representatives in 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean and for the first time in history is part of a Global Fund multi-country grant, along with 9 other regional networks of people living with HIV, sex workers, transgender women and men who have sex with men.

LANPUD seeks to reform laws and cultural paradigms that foster stigmatisation, discrimination and criminalisation of people who use psychoactive substances so that they can enjoy the same rights and opportunities as any other human being.


This story was submitted by Ernesto Cortés (Costa Rican Association for Drug Study and Intervention – ACEID). This story has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.