By Annie Madden, Kari Lancaster, Alison Ritter, and Carla Treloar - International Journal of Drug Policy
The familiar mantra of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ has arguably become a well-accepted principle within drug policy development (Jürgens, 2005; Sharma & Chatterjee, 2012). The criminalisation of drug use, and the associated high levels of stigma and discrimination experienced by people who use drugs, has engendered a strong emphasis on the ethical and human rights imperatives associated with the meaningful involvement for people who use drugs in drug policy (Bas-tos, 2012; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2008; Kleinig, 2012). Initially, calls for greater meaningful participation in drug policy pro-cesses came largely from drug user organisations, harm reduction and drug policy reform groups Increasingly, the importance of engaging people who use drugs in drug policy development is being acknowledged at the highest levels of mainstream political discourse on drugs including in the Outcome Document from the 2016 United Na-tions General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs (UN, 2016) and a recent statement on global drug policy from the UN Chief Exec-utives Board (UN, 2019).
Despite these commitments to the greater involvement of people who use drugs and evidence of ongoing civil society efforts to open-out this space over the past decade (Fordham, 2018), questions remain about how principles of engagement in relation to people who use drugs are being implemented in practice in high-level UN drug policy fora such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) (IDPC, 2019c). Although there is a growing literature on the participation and influence of drug user representatives and organisations in drug policy settings at the local, country and a small number at regional levels (AIVL, 2012; Anker, 2006; Bjerge, Duke, Asmussen Frank, Rolando & Eisenbach-Stangl, 2016; Efthimiou-Mordaunt, 2015; Frank, Anker & Tammi, 2012; Kerr et al., 2006; Lancaster, Seear, Treloar & Ritter, 2017; Melaugh, 2018; Mold, 2008; O’Gorman, Quigley, Zobel & Moore, 2014; Osborn & Small, 2006; Sharma & Chatterjee, 2012; Storbj ̈ork, 2012; Ti, Tzemis & Buxton, 2012; Zibbell, 2012), much less attention has been paid to ‘drug user representation’ in the global drug policy setting of the UN. Given the critical leadership role of the UN in global drug policy, further research on ‘drug user representation’ within this setting is warranted.
If there is to be greater involvement of people who use drugs in UN drug policy settings, in addition to descriptive accounts of who is involved and what happens there is a need to unpack the concept of ‘drug user representation’ itself and examine how it is constituted in the highly regulatory and politicised frame of international drug control, so as to open up taken-for-granted assumptions and consider their effects. Specifically, the continued criminalisation of people who use drugs means that issues of power, knowledge and legitimacy are deserving of critical attention in relation to ‘drug user representation’ in UN policy settings.
In this paper, we draw on poststructural theory and critical drug policy scholarship to consider how ‘drug user representation’ is consti-tuted in normative UN drug policy discourse and other practices. Spe-cifically, we critically examine the assumptions and logics underpinning these material-discursive practices including which knowledges count, who gets to legitimately speak, and what is it possible to be, say and do in this context. To explore these questions, we examine a corpus of publicly available documents from the UNGASS on Drugs and associated processes of the CND. We critically interrogate these data across three co-constitutive domains, examining: the subjects of ‘drug user repre-sentation’ (how the ‘drug-using’ subject is constituted and governed through UN drug policy discourses and other practices); the objects of ‘drug user representation’ (the key material-discursive practices employed by ‘drug user representatives’ in conducting their represen-tations); and the forms of ‘drug user representation’ (the productive ef-fects of governing practices and modes of engagement on ‘drug user representation’ in the UN drug policy context).