World AIDS Day

By Tony O'Neill 12/01/11

Today activists unite to highlight issues like Russia's counterproductive and brutal approach to drug users.

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Today is World AIDS Day, when activists and supporters unite on issues like the lack of funding for treatment and the criminalization of unsafe sex. Global protests are also being held to highlight how Russia’s brutal handling of its drug using population is driving the AIDS epidemic there. Protests are taking place today outside of Russian embassies in ten different countries. Speakers at the London event include renowned human rights activist Peter Tatchell and Eliot Albers of INPUD (The International Network of People who Use Drugs). Other protests are in New York, Canberra, Marseilles, Barcelona, Bucharest, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Tbilisi and Toronto.

The figures are staggering. Russia’s inhumane treatment of drug users is well-known, but the outrages perpetrated against citizens in the name of the War on Drugs are worth repeating: Russia’s HIV epidemic is the fastest growing in the world, and more than 80% of new infections occur in drug users. Russia currently has a total HIV positive population of one million; if something isn’t done to reverse this trend, recent projections suggest the total could rise to five million in the near future. The pandemic is worsened by the authorities' almost prehistoric attitude to drug addiction. They reject substitution therapies such as methadone or suboxone, and instead employ punitive measures that have further drive the problem underground. Needle exchange programs are non-existent; this puts Russia at odds with UN human rights monitors, who have repeatedly stated that harm reduction policies are essential for states to comply with the right to health.
With 100,000 drug related deaths in Russia per year—30,000 of these linked to heroin alone—and ever more dangerous drugs emerging, it's high time for change.

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.