My road to activism

Written by Tam Miller.

Hi my name is Tam Miller and I was an IDU in Edinburgh in the 80s. At the time when Edinburgh was known as the AIDS capital of Europe. It was like a drugs war, war zone with almost no services available for people who used drugs. Heavy police harassment and many people were getting ill and dying from HIV related complications.

I was getting sick of going to my friends' funerals who had died with complications caused by HIV and I thought this had to stop. So I started doing needle exchange from my house, although needle exchange was illegal in Edinburgh at the time. After a while 3 friends who were also injecting drug users asked if they could run peer needle and syringe programmes (Peer NSPs) the same. We ran Peer NSPs for 3 years until running needle exchange became legal in 1991 and mainstream services opened up. However me and my friends still ran Peer NSP at night and at the weekend when services are closed at the times when they were most often needed.

In 1993 we set up a group called Chemical Reaction which is a community activist group of drug users. When I say community activist group I mean we challenge drug services and the powers that be when there are issues affecting or sometimes killing our people. Chemical Reaction continues to run to this day but one the one of our biggest advocacy campaign in the recent times was linked to the Anthrax contaminated heroin, which killed about 17 people across Scotland. The services and the Government were doing very little about it so we felt we had to. We got some flyers printed up and asked pharmacies to give them out and put one in their window. We sent them to our friends all over Scotland and asked them to do the same. Then we protested outside the Scottish Parliament only to be threatened with arrest.

After organising with Chemical Reaction, I was asked by the Scottish Drugs Forum to start the Scottish Drug Action Group or SDAG in 1995. The remit of SDAG was to go all over Scotland and start drug user groups and to connect these groups into a network. I've always done grass roots work and activism and I think it is a strength of mine. I hate when drug users are treated like scum. So I do anything with my peers to educate people who think drug users are animals. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't.

When I was asked to join Coact I jumped at the chance. The opportunity to work with respected drug user activists from all over the world was something I felt was too important too pass up. The team that has been put together has a vast knowledge of all the issues that affect drug users. We all learn from each other as a team and can bring out different skills to bare on a problem presented to us. All in all Coact is a great assembly of people. I feel we can contribute a lot to the drugs field and international development. I think Coact brings the added value of the personal experience of drugs. And I think people trust you if they know you have been through the same as them. So Coact reach peers at a deep level and also work together and in partnership with drugs staff who are committed to supporting and empowering our community.

I am looking forward to this new opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of people who use drugs and particularly to work in such different and exciting places around the world.

Tam MillerTam Miller

Based in Scotland, Tam is a drug user activist and drugs outreach worker from Edinburgh, Scotland. Edinburgh was known as the AIDS capital of Europe in the mid 1980s and Tam was living in the midst of this epidemic. He responded by running an illegal needle exchange from his home for his peers in 1989.

Tam's full profile


  • "Coact facilitated a drug user workshop for the Public Health Agency. The event went extremely well, with Coact doing an excellent job of ensuring the aims of the day were met."

Latest Tweet

@RichardREngnath people who use drugs face a range of public health issues. Drugs and HIV are key themes in internatioinal development

by Coact

Contact Us


phone  +441225830724