To punish or not to punish? Harm reduction approach to work with drug users

MHM Conversations


On 24 August 2021 at 18:00, Pauls Stradiņš Museum of the History of Medicine is hosting the third event of the MHM Conversations series, ‘To punish or not to punish? Harm reduction approach to work with drug users’ that can also be viewed live on the MHM Facebook account. Social anthropologist Anna Žabicka, Head of Narcological Assistance Service at Riga Centre for Psychiatry and Narcology Astrīda Stirna and Chair of Board of DIA+LOGS support centre Ruta Kaupe will discuss the shortcomings and challenges of the current health and social policy regarding drug users.

Harm reduction is a body of measures that aim to reduce or avert the negative consequences and risks of drug use (for instance, infectious diseases, substance overdoses, etc.). As part of the harm reduction programme, people suffering from drug abuse disorders are provided with assistance to facilitate safer use of narcotic substances, given that these persons are subject to addiction and not always capable of taking care of themselves; that includes access to sanitary and hygiene products, testing for infectious diseases, and syringe exchange programmes. Furthermore, this approach emphasises the right of drug users to healthcare and is an effort to minimise stigmatisation.

Should people be punished for using narcotic substances? What contributes to the stigmatisation of drug users? And how does it affect their recovery? How accessible and harm-reduction-oriented is the current health and social support policy toward drug users in Latvia? What type of services should we be aiming to introduce? This time, the participants in the conversation will discuss the shortcomings and challenges of the health and social policy toward drug users.

About the contributors

Anna Žabicka is a social anthropologist who is currently writing her PhD thesis on aging and care in the Latvian countryside, basing it on a long-term ethnographic research carried out in a small Latvian countryside care home. Anna is specialising in medical anthropology: her principal academic focus is on the subjects of aging, care, health and social inequity, death and kinship. A holder of two MA degrees in social anthropology from Wayne State University (USA, 2019) and Riga Stradiņš University (2014), Anna Žabicka is currently studying toward a doctoral degree at the University of Vienna and teaching anthropology of medicine, death and kinship at Riga Stradiņš University.

Astrīda Stirna is Head of Narcological Assistance Service at Riga Centre for Psychiatry and Narcology, a healthcare management doctor, an experienced psychiatrist and narcologist, as well as Head Narcologist of the Ministry of Health.

Ruta Kaupe is the Chair of Board of the DIA+LOGS association, a support centre for people affected by HIV/AIDS. Ruta has a wealth of experience organising efforts of eliminating discrimination and working with socially marginalised people: users of narcotic substances, HIV positive people and AIDS patients, sex workers, their families and acquaintances.

The MHM series of conversations is centred around discussions on the notion of health. Our health is a multi-layered and variable experience that is influenced by a number of factors, not always medical ones. In our conversations we will explore subjects like health inequity and inequality, stigmatisation of diseases and the influence of the urban environment and loneliness on our health. As part of the series, joined by experts of medical and social sciences and medical professionals, we will address subjects like health inequity in Latvia; the place of narcotic substance users in the society and their access to healthcare; the influence of urban environment on health behaviour, nutrition and food chains, as well as loneliness, sexual health and sexuality.

The MHM conversation series is supported by Friedrich Ebert Foundation.

The event at the museum can be attended exclusively by persons presenting a valid Covid-19 vaccination or recovery certificate and an identity document. The number of free spots is limited, thus, starting from 20th of August, please register in advance by calling 26644548.

Live stream of the event can be accessed on the MHM Facebook account here. The recording of the conversation is available on our Youtube channel.

Morphine and opium preparations, Germany, 1930s.


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