Our Chemical Romance

You may well wonder why someone who is proudly and happily on the kombucha-wagon would care about pill testing.

After all, what’s it to me if other young people choose to play the game of Russian roulette that is taking recreational party drugs? It’s their body, their lives, their choice. If they want to do it, they can take their chances and learn the hard way, right?

Wrong.

As someone in recovery, it’s an issue I’ve thought about more deeply than most. To me, the debate, and where many in positions of power continue to demonstrate not only ignorance but a failure to connect with their communities, should not be about waging a war on drugs. People have taken drugs for centuries, in one form or other, and the majority do not abuse them.

The NSW government’s decision to frame the debate in a moral and legal light is doing more harm than good. As global citizens we have a responsibility to protect, and instead are casting the first stone.

Stigma is a very powerful thing. When people feel ashamed about their behaviour - because there are rules and institutions in place that tell them they are bad or deserving of being penalised - they are too afraid to ask for help when they get into trouble.

Drug users don’t get to have the monopoly on stigma, of course. I write about the stigma around drug use because it is what I know. I have witnessed too many people suffer in silence, overdose or disappear because they have been so overcome by guilt, fear and shame they could not speak up.

When we accept laws that say, “Drug users do not deserve to be safe,” we are judging these people by their outward appearance, when what we should really do is look at their hearts.

I don’t have a perfect solution to the riddle that is substance use, but what I do know is that we must change our outdated and unsafe drug laws so that drugs and addiction are addressed as health and safety concerns.

I spoke to one MP who is #sorrynotsorry for party rocking, Cate Faehrmann, about stigma, her decision to ‘out’ herself as a former recreational drug user and why our laws around pill testing are so passe.

RG: Why do you do what you do?
CF: I’m one of the Greens voices in the NSW Parliament, and I’m passionate about doing everything I can to create a better world. I do it because I can’t stand people in positions of power and influence who are stuffing up this world for future generations. It gets me out of bed in the morning!

RG: Why is drug law reform and harm reduction a key issue for you?

CF: It represents so much that is wrong with our society. The war on drugs is based on lies. It’s a war against young people, it’s a war against progressive thinking, it’s a war that has clearly failed and is costing lives.

Our whole approach to drugs doesn’t make sense. We are penalising one particular group of drug users, and saying it’s ok to another.

RG: You recently wrote an opinion piece and outed yourself in the media as a former recreational drug user. What has the response been like?

CF: The community response has been incredibly positive. Young people, parents, health professionals and even members of the defence and police force have supported me. They have all been giving me further information to help my campaign.

The mainstream media has also been very positive. I think they have appreciated my honesty.

RG: People have always taken drugs in some kind of capacity. Why do you think that is?

CF: Naturally we seek pleasure, naturally we want to relax and have a good time with friends and the community.

It has gone on for hundreds of years, traditional cultures use various natural plants, whether relaxing or communing with a higher spirit.

Most people who have taken MDMA - one third of young people - use it with friends to have a good time. That’s the uncomfortable truth that the government and police don’t want to talk about.

RG: Stigma around drug-taking exists on many levels, whether due to the beliefs of law enforcement personnel, health professionals, friends or our family. How can we better address this?

CF: One of the main reasons for my opinion piece was to reduce stigma around illegal drug use. Many people I know have used or use in a way that is generally under control. They still have good jobs - some very senior.

We’re not having an honest conversation around which drugs are harmful and which aren’t. Everyone feels as though they need to hide their behaviour, yet everyone knows everyone is doing it.

I’ve burst that bubble. Let’s just get real and change the conversation.

To follow Cate and read more about her campaigns, visit her here.