People who use drugs are demonised and criminalised for living – Akia’s story

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Hey, my name is Akia Munga. I go by Akia. I identify as agender, so I use they/them pronouns or my name. I’m also a harm reduction human, harm redux human, if you would. I’m also an advocate attending the opioid emergency and I am a big time Blacktivist. So Black activist with a capital B.

I was really small. There was some abuse and some really traumatic things that happened. And I was taking antidepressants. And then I was on this Paxil-Ritalin combination, which, if you Google that combination, there was a lot of suicides. I started taking doubles and triples because it made me feel good. And I didn’t feel bored. I wasn’t depressed. I had energy. Yeah, it felt good. I felt like a person. 

I’m actually currently non-using right now. I used to do a lot of fentanyl. I used to shoot a lot of fentanyl. And I’m currently on the safe supply programme. And I say that harm reduction and safe supply saved my life twice. 

When overdoses happen on site, there’s this mandate that you call the emergency, you call 911. Oftentimes, when 911 is called, cops come as well. One time, I think someone had overdosed in the bathroom, and EMS was called. And along with EMS came the police. But we understood that the cops were gonna come through. And when cops come through, everything goes wrong. When cops come through, the probability that that substance user, that person of colour, will make it out alive is a lot slimmer. 

They came through to the front door and they were going to come in and it was me, myself, and my supervisor, and we’re like: ‘No, sorry, you can’t come in’. And we ended up blocking the door. So, we put ourselves in front of and in the frame of the door and said: ‘If you want to speak to them, you can speak to us, but we’re fine. We have this under control. Things are okay’.

The police say what they always say, which is: ‘We’re just trying to do our job. We’re here because we want to make sure that people are safe’. But they’re not. They’re not there to make sure that people are safe. 

If Craig had known that the police were going to be called, Craig would have fled. Craig would not have been there. Craig would have overdosed in another place because he would have lost trust in us. 

A lot of folks who use, myself included, or who are street involved, or have histories of homelessness or displacement, have really horrid soured relationships with law enforcement. Law enforcement makes it their job to harass all marginalised communities and make life a lot harder to live. 

If we weren’t there to bar the door, who’s to say that Craig would have been safe? And the fact that this is a question is a big problem. 

People who use drugs are demonised and criminalised for just living their lives, for just wanting to feel good and use the same amount of oxygen as everybody else. 

My utopia looks like no stigma, no shame, no judgement. No lives that are criminalised.


Photo: Canadian HIV Legal Network

Akia’s story has been transcribed and edited for clarity based on the video displayed above, produced by the Canadian HIV Legal Network.