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January 7, 2019
The concept of human rights is universal, no one should be exempt.1
Yet within the formulation, planning and application of programs, services, policies and laws within our society, we often overlook the basic rights of minority communities. This is often the result of a lack of meaningful consultation and discussion with these communities. One such community are people who use illicit substances.2
Most of the policy-based responses to substance related overdoses, crime, treatment and services are developed and designed in isolation to people who use illicit substances. This exclusion from decision making is largely driven by stigma and discrimination, and the belief that people who use substances are not interested or capable of engaging in the decision-making process.3 This exclusion has been demonstrated to have serious implications on the health and wellbeing of people within these communities, and increases their vulnerability to further discrimination.4
The ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ movement speaks to the need for meaningful involvement and contribution from people who use illicit substances, in the creation of policies, programs and services that directly affect their lives.5 It is a perspective on decision making, which understands the needs of a population cannot be comprehensively understood or met, unless that population is involved in the decision making process.
This is not a perspective that is exclusive to the substance misuse community. Many minority groups advocate for a commitment to compulsory consultation from local, state and federal governments when programs and policies are being created, to address needs within their communities.
The importance of this involvement cannot be understated, as people who belong to these communities are often best placed to identify and describe what works, and what doesn’t work, in regard to services, programs and policy. Meaning the policies/programs are specifically designed and targeted to the needs identified by the community, and are therefore much more likely to have successful outcomes.
Involving communities in a meaningful way in program and policy creation recognises that no one understands the experience of people who use illicit substances better than they do, and acknowledges that all people have a right to a voice, and should be afforded the dignity to use it in regard to decisions that directly affect them.