Radio — Drug users mobilizing for social justice and harm reduction in Vancouver


On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Hugh Lampkin talks about efforts in Vancouver among users of illicit drugs to mobilize in the service of social justice and harm reduction.

People who use drugs that have been designated by the state as “illegal” do not, as a group, get much respect. The stigma is intense, from the blatant dehumanization from more reactionary sources, with the accompanying impulse to judge and punish, to the more liberal tendency to patronize and medicalize, and to frame drug users as at best passive recipients of services, objectified problems, and people whom you’d really do better to avoid. This is particularly true when it is compounded by other sorts of dehumanization and stigma, be that connected to experiences of poverty or racialization or sex work or what have you. Yet increasing numbers of drug users have been getting active to challenge this sort of dismissal, as part of participating in struggles around a broad spectrum of injustices.

Lampkin is the current president of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, or VANDU. VANDU is a grassroots, democratic membership organization of current and former users of illict drugs. It organizes around issues of harm reduction — that is, practices of meeting people where they are at in terms of addiction, and working with them to reduce negative health outcomes — and of social justice. The group is premised on a recognition of drug users as full human beings, as political agents who can and must mobilize together in collective struggles for better lives, better communities, and a better world. They have been active since the late 1990s in the downtown east side of Vanocuver around issues like housing, poverty, and health care, as well as fighting for expanded harm reduction services and against stigma and criminalization. I spoke with Lampkin about the organization, about harm reduction, and about social justice.

To learn more about the work of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, click here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit the recently revamped website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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