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No Turning Back

On World AIDS Day, Harm Reduction Coalition Commits to Forging Unity in Shared Values to Support People Who Use Drugs

Harm Reduction Coalition calls for unity on World AIDS Day to advance and defend our shawad2016_harm-reduction_960x618pxred values: a commitment to affirming the lives and dignity of people who use drugs by promoting health, respect and community.

Substance use and HIV have been intertwined since the early days of the HIV epidemic in a potent mix of stigma, discrimination and marginalization. Harm reduction teaches us that these challenges cannot be overcome solely through public health strategies: we must incorporate human rights and social justice analyses and approaches that resist the disparities and structural oppressions based on race, gender and sexual orientation, and rectify the damages and trauma of poverty, homelessness and incarceration. We recognize that risk and vulnerability thrive on these intersections, and are fueled by the logics of criminalization and exclusion.

In the United States, we are witnessing and participating in a renaissance of harm reduction advocacy for syringe exchange, overdose prevention, and safer drug use spaces/supervised injection facilities. At the same time, advocates for the health and safety of people who use drugs face new dangers in a political landscape that threatens to reverse gains in health care access and return to aggressive, punitive criminal justice policies that place people who use drugs in harm’s way. Our communities cannot afford to lose ground, and we call upon our allies and partners to join us in insisting that there is no turning back from fulfilling our vision of harm reduction.

The world is failing people who use drugs and nowhere more evident is this than in the missed global HIV targets. In 2011, the United Nations set a target to half new HIV infections among people who inject drugs by 2015. This target was missed by a staggering 80%. Of the 158 countries worldwide reporting injecting drug use only 58% have implemented any syringe access programs and only half have any form of opioid substitution therapy. The ambitious, but achievable goal, of ending AIDS by 2030 will not be realized without harm reduction. To achieve this goal, we need to rapidly scale-up access to harm reduction services worldwide, both in the community and in prisons and jails. To end AIDS by 2030 we need to cultivate leadership, political support and funding for harm reduction, so that no one is left behind.

On World AIDS Day, we unite in the knowledge that our passion and our grief, our long-held convictions and our hard-earned wisdom, and – most importantly of all – our love and desire for justice will guide us forward.

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