Last year, we conducted a student-based webinar with Monica Barratt, Researcher at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, and Will Tregoning, Co-founder of Sydney’s not-for- profit Unharm. The audio is available online, discussing pill testing, the choice of becoming an activist and more.
The theme of an open conversation was explored as well as the pros and cons of ‘coming out’ as a person who uses illegal substances. According to Will, a lack of willingness to break the silence is “the greatest obstacle to the power of our movement.” He spoke forwardly on his experience, which he choose to do as a deliberate form of advocacy to help shift negative perceptions of people who use drugs:
“At the end of the day, coming out is an issue you need to resolve for yourself. You have the answer to your own question. It’s going to come up. One thing I never anticipated in becoming an advocate is how much work I had to do on myself, and how deep the stigmatization goes…. That has been as much of a process as developing sufficient policy expertise, for example to speak on something specific.”
For many, this is far from possible and given the increased frequency of illegal substance use among some university students, we believe, creating a space for young people to share their experiences is important. Prohibited drugs are accessible – and popular- among young Australians. Without government control / regulation and the utilization of scientifically tested, drug checking equipment, the quality of any illicit drug is unknown. Young people may feel ashamed about their curiosity in experimenting with illicit substances yet will do so, regardless of social stigma, and threats of criminal prosecution. Shame and stigma in this area may prevent open conversations about reducing risk or seeking support.
We think it is logical to provide as much support as possible to those going through experimental phases of substance use, as well as, more frequent and heavier use to protect overall well being. Part of creating innovate forms of safety is having conversations that may help young people better navigate personal journeys around issues to do with secrecy and the law. In doing so, hopefully, existing barriers to medical, health and social support can be overcome by building stronger and more understanding communities.
In the words of Dr. Monica Barratt, “There is power of telling a story, one that breaks some of the stereotypes. It has the power to pave the way for future generations to come out and be not so controversial.” We hope that through the process of online discussions and documenting narratives, young people can develop stronger voices around what they believe is best of them in terms of making informed decisions about partying and drug use.