By Sessi Kuwabara Blanchard / TalkingDrugs

In a small Dutch city outside of The Netherlands, drug user activists from around the world gathered in 1999 for the fourth annual International Drug Users Day (IDUD) conference. 

As Mat Southwell, a British activist, delivered a presentation, he could “hardly see the audience” he told Talking Drugs, “because everybody was chasing,” or smoking drugs off of foil. The event was like no conference he had ever attended. “There was so much smoke coming up from the audience. You could hardly hear people speak over the rustle of silver foil.”

One of the things that made the event particularly special for Southwell was the involvement of people who supplied drugs, something that he himself would soon be working on back in the United Kingdom. A group of Dutch suppliers called the Hard Drug Dealers Union sponsored the event run by the Dutch National Interest Group of Drug Users (LSD). 

Today, the contributions of drug suppliers towards harm reduction efforts remain mostly neglected by history, although some within the grassroots end of the movement still emphasise their critical role. The work of Van Dam in The Netherlands and Southwell in the United Kingdom is part of a mostly-forgotten history of drug dealers organising themselves and alongside drug-user activists to advance the health and wellbeing of people who use drugs.