Defend compassion clubs! Stop the persecution of the Drug Users Liberation Front!

The “War on Drugs,” although developed in the United States, has spread to other parts of the world. While some countries have rejected the War on Drugs model for a more progressive response to drug use, others still adhere to the regressive U.S. approach. Canada is an example of the latter.

Not everyone in Canada is backward on the problem of drug use in the working class. But one must understand what exactly makes up the “progressive reaction” to drug use. First, we — pro-drug user activists and drug users ourselves (using or in recovery from problematic use) — have to establish certain facts. One fact is that no amount of harassing, cajoling, guilting, arresting, imprisoning or forced treating can cause a drug user — “normal” users or addicts — to stop. We must stop when we want to stop. 

Another fact is that no matter the personal risk, many of us may still use drugs. What do we mean by “personal risk”? While it includes the loss of loved ones (often as a result of “intervention” — a useless gesture that doesn’t help people), the specific personal risk we need to understand is this: the threat of death. 

In the drug supply — in Canada and the United States — there exist many different chemicals: fentanyl analogues such as carfentanil, ohmefentanyl, acetylfentanyl, acrylfentanyl and others; the animal tranquilizer xylazine; benzodiazepines such as bromazolam, animal dewormers; and other material that may or may not be psychoactive.

In light of this, people are overdosing from drugs that may not even be detected in the body using traditional drug tests. These drugs may not even be detected at autopsy. So, there is a major problem facing drug users: a lack of a safe supply of drugs. Some non-users believe that giving a safe supply to users would only encourage them to continue to use. They either ignore or don’t care about the alternative: that without a safe supply of drugs, many will die or suffer dire physical consequences from using dangerous, tainted drugs.

Drug User Liberation Front: harm reduction in action

This is where the Drug User Liberation Front in Canada comes in. Che Guevara said that “The true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love,” and no more is that true than among the members of DULF. 

Rally to support Drug Users Liberation Front, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Jan. 16, 2024 (Photo:filtermag.org)

Drug users founded their organization after suffering loss after loss of people who used drugs, who died of overdoses or other consequences of drug use. While the world was reeling from one epidemic — COVID-19 — drug users in Vancouver, British Columbia, were reeling from drug and overdose epidemics. They needed help because their drug supply was tainted. 

Additionally, some drug users had no interest in methadone or buprenorphine (whose brand names include, but are not limited to, Suboxone, Sublocade and Zubsolv). Many people have good reasons for rejecting these medical treatments, such as the often detailed state oversight and control they require. So, what did the Drug User Liberation Front do? Its founders — Eris Nyx and Jeremy Kalicum — acquired drugs such as cocaine, crystal methamphetamines and heroin from the dark web. They had the supply tested and retested to check its purity. After doing that, they distributed it in their compassion club (an organization dedicated to the well-being of drug users), and people came to rely on them for their safe supply.

Some people, including those who don’t actually care about addicts and other drug users or who think their approach to use and recovery are the only right ones, might argue that this is enabling drug users to continue to use drugs. The reality of the matter is that compassion clubs are a safe and helpful approach to drug use. The compassion club model is very young, but it has worked. 

Club organizers attempted to satiate bourgeois legality by applying for an exemption to Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Their application was denied, but they continued their efforts as the epidemic of drug use and deaths pressed on. 

On Oct. 25, 2023, Vancouver police arrested Nyx and Kalicum, releasing them after a court ordered that they not communicate with each other or engage in compassion club activities. This, in essence, has killed the DULF project — for now. The court date, Jan. 16, 2024, was postponed, as the legal system decides whether to charge Nyx and Kalicum and with what. Hundreds have demonstrated to demand an end to the state’s persecution of DULF.

‘War on Drugs’ is deadly

In the time since the shutdown of the compassion club, there have predictably been deaths. There are people who can never see their drug-using loved ones again. There will be cliques missing one or more members. There will be hearts that can never be healed. These are casualties of the so-called “War on Drugs.”

The compassion club movement — with the Drug User Liberation Front in Canada at its head — knows that operating openly and not hiding from the government always carries the risk of shutdown. Nobody thought the state would come down so harshly. But as in the United States, political forces in Canada — who either don’t have loved ones who use drugs or who don’t understand the causes and conditions of drug use — clamored for the “law and order” approach to the drug problem. That approach has always failed.

The amazing thing about the compassion club movement and DULF is that, among people the clubs served, there were no deaths from drug overdoses and no infections, such as those that occurred when drugs were tainted by animal dewormer or xylazine. The compassion club movement has also mitigated overdose deaths and infections by blood borne pathogens like HIV by providing Narcan, sterile works and other medical safety precautions.

This is thanks to the work of DULF and its allies — allies who, too, have been targeted by these “law and order” crusaders. These politicians, believing that the compassionate and progressive approach to drug use is unethical or bad, have attempted to investigate everyone connected to the movement, such as the people who tested the drugs for DULF. They include members of opposition parties in the Canadian state and national government, such as Pierre Poilievre of the Conservative Party and Elenore Sturko of the party BC United, along with their followers. 

Revolutionaries, drug users and users in recovery, people who love those users and people in recovery and anyone progressive must come together to tell the Canadian authorities – and all repressive capitalist state apparatuses that seek to impose a carceral “solution” to the struggles drug users face — that we will not tolerate their attacks on our people, on our heroes. 

While, of course, history is not made by great individuals, there are those who do immense, valuable work for the people. This is the case with Eris and Jeremy.

Say no to the War on Drugs! Say yes to helping and saving drug users!

Princess Harmony

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Princess Harmony
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