International organisations invited NGOs to participate in the 2014 Global Day of Action on June 26, to raise awareness of alternatives to punitive drug policies. Answering the call, we launched the “Room in the Eight” campaign in Budapest. We contracted a webdesigner and PR firm, Urban Communications, to provide us with technical assistance on graphic design, advertising and on-site campaigning. The aim of the campaign was to educate and mobilise the general public, especially residents of the Budapest 8th district, to support innovative harm reduction solutions as alternatives to criminalisation. The goal is to keep harm reduction on the agenda of political decision-makers, and open the first supervised injection facilities in the city.
The local mayor has been trying to convince local residents that the solution is to close down needle exchange programs, and rely on law enforcement to eliminate drug use. We would like to convince people that the real solution is not less, but more, harm reduction.
We realised that there was a significant gap between the real public health harms of the open drug scene, and the harms perceived by local residents. For example, local non drug users are much more concerned about drug litter on the street, than about drug users sharing injecting equipment. In reality, the chance of someone getting infected by touching a used needle on the street is minimal, whereas the risk of transmission from sharing injecting equipment is huge. We needed to communicate our message in a way which would appeal to most audiences, especially to those who live in the neighbourhood.
We therefore stressed the beneficial effects of harm reduction services on the harms perceived by local residents: the presence of unofficial shooting galleries, drug litter on the streets, and nuisance caused by street drug use. The solution we proposed, was to create a safe, hygienic environment for drug users to inject their drugs, using sterile equipment – that is, to open supervised injection rooms in the 8th district (“Room in the 8”). This is beneficial, not only for drug users (by reducing the incidence of blood-borne infections and overdoses), but for non-users as well, by reducing the prevalence of street injection and getting rid of unofficial shooting galleries.
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