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ID: HR23-159
Presenting author: Sione Crawford

Presenting author biography:

Sione Crawford has worked in drug user activism and organising for nearly twenty years across Australia. He is proud to be a peer who leads the drug user organisation Harm Reduction Victoria and he has worked there for the past four years.

Can peer workers ever be safe in a prohibitionist world?

Sione Crawford, Nick Kent
Australian drug policy creates contradictory and unsafe environments for people who use drugs and peer workforces with fundamentally mis-aligned approaches to drug policy. Law enforcement and abstinence approaches, rooted in stigma, discrimination and social control, receive 66% of drug policy funding. Peer-based harm reduction approaches are innovative, effective and responsive to community need but are limited in their capacity to advocate and support community participation in drug policy change through a combination of subsistence-level, service delivery funding models and overwhelming levels of community need.

Victoria is one of Australia's most progressive jurisdictions. A recent Mental Health Royal Commission recommended expansion of the peer workforce across the mental health, AOD and harm reduction sectors. As the Victorian Government invests in a lived and living experience harm reduction peer workforce comprised of people who use drugs, the contradictions inherent in a prohibitionist legal framework on one hand and a supportive health framework on the other, are becoming clear: impacting and implicating all of us.

Peer-workers are arrested in front-page splashes for being part of the community we are employed to engage with. It is not viable to embed a living experience peer workforce without safe workplaces that exist in a supporting social framework. Criminalisation and peer workforces cannot co-exist safely.

Criminalisation is deeply embedded culturally in this former penal colony; police pre-date the first Constitution and Parliament of Victoria. Parliamentary Inquiries explore the complexity of decriminalising drugs to little avail; the law is never really changed. The dominant system perpetuates, sitting in deep tension with the ethos of Health system reforms that are underway, as well as with the evidence-base in favour of decriminalisation and legal supply.

This paper will explore these problems and opportunities from the perspective of those most affected by prohibition - the community of people who use drugs.