The transformative power of harm reduction – Verónica’s story

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The Argentinian Network for the Rights and Assistance of People who Use Drugs (R.A.D.A.U.D.) is a community-led organisation that advocates for the empowerment of people who use drugs. 

Verónica Russo chairs RADAUD and shares her observations on drug policies in Argentina.

Although Argentina has some harm reduction provisions in place, the situation of people who use drugs has not changed much since the opening of needle and syringe programmes and opiate agonist treatment.  

This is because a large majority of people who use drugs in Argentina use smokable cocaine and synthetic drugs. And this reality is even clearer if we consider the needs of people who have been marginalised and pushed into situations of vulnerability.

The harm reduction we need in Argentina needs to respond to these realities and, unfortunately, there has been very little change in this area.

Beyond that, we need to change our current drug law 23.737. This is a law that criminalises and penalises the possession of drugs for consumption. And, as we all know, criminalisation violates the dignity of drug users by making access to drugs more precarious, with negative impacts on our health and wellbeing. And not to mention quality!

There is an urgent need for a comprehensive harm reduction policy that understands the scope of its transformative potential. It is an invitation towards care and responsibility, for a better management of pleasures.

In my life, the greatest example I have of its impact is myself. Harm reduction changed my life when I learned that I have rights and that we, as users, cannot be understood only through the prism of illness, as is often done in reference to the use of substances whose use has been outlawed. 

My first contact with harm reduction was 23 years ago, and from there my activism took a big turn. From seeing myself as a ‘sick addict’ to discovering myself as the psychoactive substance user I always was.

This change of perspective was important in my commitment to working with the grassroots, seeking to bring this important knowledge to bring about changes in the relationship that my community and society as a whole has with drugs.

Much of this work takes place through our network of drug users in Argentina, RADAUD, which exists to advance our rights and to provide assistance to each other. We seek to affirm that there is no real harm reduction without the involvement of people who use drugs in the planning, management, and implementation of projects.

And through this understanding we also created the Latin American Network of People who Use Drugs in Latin America and the Caribbean, LANPUD. We are identified by the motto ‘Nothing about us without us‘, because we know that another, more humane drug policy is possible.

Currently, I am part of the Regional Secretariat of LANPUD, which, together with the networks of the Alianza Liderazgo en Positivo (ALEP), carries out the project: ‘Empowerment and Leadership for people living with HIV’ in 11 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The project seeks to put the reform of laws that criminalise people who use HIV on the national agenda.

Photo: Verónica Russo