When we started The Level, we knew we wanted it to be a place where people could come and talk, think and learn about their use of drugs. The secrecy and shame that currently exists around drug use stops many people from seeking help or finding info that could help them stay safer.
The Level exists in the real world where people use drugs, and just like everyone else, people who use drugs deserve accurate information about how to stay safer, without judgement.
We know that thousands of people across New Zealand use drugs – from all walks of life, for all kinds of reasons. People use drugs for pleasure, for escapism, to cope with trauma or to explore. Part of opening up the conversation about drugs means acknowledging that drugs can mean many different things to different people and different communities.
To foster those open conversations about drug use, we've brought on some incredible people. We're excited to introduce our new Community Activators, people who have diverse backgrounds and connections to communities of people who use drugs in New Zealand. They all share a compassionate and non-judgmental approach that means they're able to speak on The Level about staying safer if you're using drugs.
They'll be the faces you see at drug checking clinics and the people behind some of the info, videos and more you see from The Level. We'll let them introduce themselves:
Since I became more acquainted with talking about drugs than with taking them, my whakaaro has been that drugs cannot be fully understood without looking at the whole of the individual or the community that’s using them. My drug use is connected to me as a whole person. It is not some moral failing of my past, but a part of me that is connected to my Māoritanga, my womanhood, the place and time in which I grew up, the people who happened to pass through my life and every other piece of me.
I’m so excited to work alongside the NZ Drug Foundation. Our mahi here works directly toward reestablishing those who use drugs as fully embodied people and members of our communities. Drugs have always been part of the human experience. Whether you choose to partake or not, the focus needs to be on making sure people who use can do so safely.
I grew up in an authoritarian environment with a moralistic worldview. In my deep ignorance about drugs, I bought into a lot of myths that helped perpetuate the stigma against people who use drugs. As I matured, I realised that ‘the war on drugs’ has been a complete failure and disproportionately harms indigenous communities. I grew up in Porirua - an urban Samoan/Māori feeling disconnected from my whakapapa. I first used drugs to deal with these feelings of disconnect and existential dread. I’m still a work in progress, but I believe that if we want to help those who struggle with drug addiction, we must start with sensible drug policy. As a society, we need to help those who ask for it rather than exclude them further. As well as harm reduction, I’m passionate about movies, music, food and love spending time with my family – both chosen and biological.
I grew up in Kohukohu in the far north. Drugs were around me my whole life and I first smoked weed when I was very young. School programmes told me that only bad people did drugs. This made me feel like me and the people around me must be bad people.
I slowly learned that the system claiming that me and those around me were bad people had been lying to me. I was angry at the legal system that had demonized me and so many people who I cared about. It seemed to me like legislators and politicians did not care about ending the senseless criminalization of hundreds of thousands of people.
Recently I have gained a new sense of hope after realising that there are people out there who care about us, and that I can be one of those people. I have a passion for harm reduction, and plenty of knowledge from personal experiences on how to be safer when doing drugs.
My first encounter with any concept of harm reduction was frantically trawling the internet for information about the drugs I wanted to take, how they might interact with the other drugs I wanted to take and how likely I was to drop dead. I am so incredibly stoked that physical and online spaces are beginning to open up where drug users can talk to real people about their experiences and access verified information about various substances. Being a part of this change is super exciting.
My work in the harm reduction space so far has been in festival spaces, providing educational resources for people planning on taking drugs and peer counselling for individuals having difficult drug experiences. I have learned that the best advice is the advice that empowers an individual to make autonomous decisions over their own body and experiences, equipped with verified and accessible information for their health and safety. Currently a student of psychotherapy, I look forward to bringing a harm reduction approach to my future work.
I am Canadian and have only recently relocated to Aotearoa. I grew up in an area in Canada with a high rate of drug use, though ‘drug use’ was perceived to stem solely from the indigenous First Nations groups in the community and was associated with ideas that drug use is optional and “drug users” are deserved of their (generally) desperate situation. Images and discussions of “alcoholics” and “drug users” were stereotypical and devoid of any first-hand experiences or humanization.
I have been able to blend my personal experiences with my professional passions and have worked in a number of roles in Canada, including within programs for people who use drugs, people with blood-borne illnesses, the rainbow community, youth in high schools, the street community, harm reduction and advocacy, among others.
I appreciate honest conversation and information sharing, no matter the topic or opinion. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Community Activator team and excited to speak with the people of New Zealand about their experiences, perceptions and reservations.
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