My name is Judy Chang, and my interest and engagement in harm reduction and drug policy advocacy has perhaps taken a more circuitous route than some.
I’m from Sydney, Australia, where during the late 1990s access to, and coverage of needle and syringe programs and methadone maintenance treatment was largely sufficient. For this, I’m fortunate to have been part of the generation that reaped the benefits of the hard won activism and advocacy of drug user groups and their allies in Australia.
The right to health services was a given for me and other people I know - but this right has not been extended to the majority of people who use drugs (PUD) around the world.
Moving into harm reduction and drug policy now is, for me, about honouring and acknowledging these gains that have been made, and also recognising that critical changes still need to be made. These include access to health services, provision of naloxone, and affordable Hep C treatment, to ending the criminalisation of drugs and people who use them, and greater respect and acknowledgement of community knowledge, skills and leadership abilities, among others.
After studying and working in international development, and more specifically on HIV care and support programs, the ‘beneficiary’ project model slowly began to jar with me. This model, I believe, manifested a lack of due respect for communities, their voices and decision-making abilities, and was infused with a paternalistic flavour.
This was juxtaposed with peer models, where people were supportive, rights- focused, and in the driving seat when determining their own needs and strategies to get to where they wanted to be. For me, I feel it to be more ethical working towards making a positive difference in struggles where my own life experience is tied up to that struggle.
For me, Coact recognises the inherent diversity in PUD communities, acknowledging the vast resource of knowledge, experience and skills that can be found amongst peers. All that needs to be done is to tap into it! As a technical support agency, Coact helps to demystify the process of policy and programmatic change. For better or worse, the levers to change lie in complicated bureaucratic and political processes, and learning to steer and navigate for real benefits is critical.
I’m really honoured to have the opportunity to work with, and learn from a group of like-minded people who have made incredible inroads in drug user activism and advocacy, and am very much looking forward to collaborating with them in Coact.