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International Drug Users Memorial Day

By Sean LeBlanc

July 21st, International Drug Users Memorial Day, is a very special day for people who use drugs and advocates worldwide. It is a chance to grieve our losses collectively with people we care about and to remember all the needless deaths of people we love because of criminalization and stigma towards people who use drugs…

I first came across a video of this day when I was teaching myself the ins and outs of the internet (still learning lol) at our local library. It really moved me. The video was of families and friends who have lost people to the drug war in Guatemala march together, amassing at a place that had special meaning to them so that they could remember all of their friends and loved ones whom have passed in this ridiculous, and seemingly never ending, War on Drugs, or as some of us see it, a War on People Who Use Drugs (PWUD). I was very slowly starting to heal from all of my trauma and this video, along with a wonderful lady that did programming for people who use drugs, really inspired me to take a chance.

I called a meeting of all the drug consumers I knew locally so that we could start to fight for equitable inclusion in all that is done “for us”, but without us Services for PWUD have historically been led and delivered by those whom are NOT PWUD, and that was the first and most important reason I got involved in advocacy-like any marginalized group we deserve a say in all that is supposedly done to help us. I would never in a million years tell, for example, women how their reproductive rights should be delivered and determined or as a white dude tell Indigenous People about their rights to their land and PWUD deserve the same respect and equitable inclusion…It wasn’t easy but when all us PWUD saw the passion and solidarity that we all had for each other we decided to have an event, and International Drug Users Memorial Day was an ideal place to start. That first year there was nine of us, and some would say that isn’t a large group, but it sure can be when everyone is engaged and passionate for change.

It was 2012 and stigma was as ripe as ever, and we were tired of people we loved dying for no apparent reason other than that we consumed certain substances that are illegal, and therefore very dangerous, because of racist, harmful and arbitrary laws set at the beginning of the 20th century.

Blurry Photo of original IDUM members. Signs read: "International Drug Users Memorial", "Why? Raise Awareness to Stigma Overdose Awareness! Harm Reduction! Safe Consumption!"
Photo from the first International Drug Users Memorial Day

Of course a day like this can be very emotional, and it can be very helpful to have an associated event either before or after the memorial itself; in 2015 we decided to have an entertaining luncheon after the event in a local church basement with food, music and speakers, and it was a great way to grieve and then free that grief afterwards. One can add or take away several things and tailor the event to where one is at, and that is just one beauty of International Drug User Memorial day itself.

It takes a small spark to start a fire and luckily for us this was it. We decided to formalize as an advocacy group and grew from there, both as an advocacy group and to remember every year that people who use drugs are loved, are valued, and should NOT under any circumstances be treated less than any other member of our community. We incorporated in 2012 as The Drug Users Advocacy League, or DUAL, and the memorial day grew and grew and grew, to an incredible 180 people during our fifth year of celebrating the lives of those we have lost. We still have amazing numbers attending this and many other special days in the drug users calendar, COVID-19 notwithstanding.

International Drug User Memorial 2019 Flyer

I am the last of the nine that started our local advocacy group, and in my mind that not only shows the importance of this day but how vital it is that we end the criminalization, the stigma, the fear and the downright hate for those of us that use a particular drug. We are your lovers, friends, parents and children, and we all deserve the same treatment and rights as anyone else, and maybe, just maybe, we can end this disgusting war and will not have to bury a new bunch of our loved ones each and every year…

So please remember, please act and please organize so we can all end this criminalization of people we care so dearly for those we have lost and celebrate each year deserve NOTHING less…

Sean LeBlanc


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