Employing people who use drugs

At the harbour in Terengganu, Malaysia, hardworking peer outreach workers meet with hardworking fishermen.

The peer outreach workers are here to provide a needle exchange and other harm reduction services to the fishermen who use drugs. Heroin is often the drug of choice, to cope with the harsh conditions of deep sea fishing days at a time. And HIV transmission as a result of sharing needles is a big problem.

The outreach workers include current or previous drug users, which is a key factor in the trust that the fishermen have in the service. Peer outreach worker Suhraizal says: “The help I myself got here gave me motivation... Through the support group and outreach workers I was able to share experiences with those who had been through the things I had.”


Launching in Malaysia

Malaysia is hosting the 2015 International Harm Reduction Conference (18-21 Oct), an international gathering of people who are getting services to, and fighting for the human rights of people who use drugs. Many people who use drugs are part of the harm reduction workforce. This is an important conference for the Alliance as globally we are delivering the largest community-led harm reduction programmes. We will be launching two new publications including a Good Practice Guide for Employing People Who use Drugs which many organisations working on harm reduction have contributed to.

The Alliance’s Executive Director, Alvaro Bermejo, introduces the guide and why it is so important to the Alliance’s commitment to participation:

“Participation is a widely held value in the Alliance. Alliance Linking Organisations across the world have a long and proud history of working with, alongside and as part of the communities we serve, the communities hardest hit by HIV and AIDS and by human rights violations related to HIV status, gender, sexuality, sex work or drug use.

Participation takes many forms. At its most modest it can be tokenistic, but at its best it can be truly transformative, both for our organisations, and for ourselves as advocates, managers, programme officers, people.

One of the most powerful ways that we can demonstrate our commitment to participation is to ensure that the communities we serve are amongst us, in our organisations and part of our daily working lives. That’s where learning happens, and where good ideas and novel approaches unfold. It’s where we learn most directly about HIV vulnerability and risk, and where we plan and deliver programmes that will bring an end to HIV vulnerability, HIV risk, and ultimately, AIDS.

Employing people who use drugs in our organisations is part of that effort. Because of the illegal nature of drug use, this can be complicated. Our practice as employers needs to adapt and be open to challenge. We need to find the balance between rights and responsibilities.”

With that in mind this new guide is full of practical tools and suggestions to make our organisations truly participatory and truly harm reduction in orientation.

The tools and tips come from the things that we are doing or have tried, along with the tools and tips from our allies and friends in other harm reduction organisations.

Get your copy - and see us at International Harm Reduction Conference (booth #23)

You can download a PDF of the guide here and find a complete list of our activities at the conference here. Our booth is coordinated by the Alliance Centre on HIV, Hep C and Drug Use, which is hosted by Alliance Ukraine.

Related info

Find out more about our harm reduction work including our two multi-country programmes Community Action on Harm Reduction (CAHR) and Asia Action, and find more pictures from CAHR in Malaysia here.

Download our second resource that’s launching at the conference: Step by Step: Preparing to work with children and young people who inject drugs.

SBSGlobally, the protection and care of children and young people who use drugs receives very little attention. It is a controversial and often misunderstood issue.

Children and young people who use drugs face specific risks and vulnerabilities that require a tailored response. Youth-specific harm reduction services are rare, leaving a gap between when they first start using drug and the age at which services are accessible.

For harm reduction organisations with limited experience of supporting children and young people who use drugs, the Alliance – with Harm Reduction International, Save the Children and Youth RISE – have developed this new tool which guides staff through a process of developing the necessary internal policies and procedures to support this type of work.