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Support Don’t Punish: Protect rights of people who use drugs


As part of the movement for drug policy reforms and harm reduction, activists and campaigners have contributed to shifting discourses, norms and practices around drugs. This pertains to ways that promote respect, care and solidarity, rather than punishment, discrimination and stigma.

By Sanjoo Thangjam

Social Awareness Service Organization (SASO) observed Global Day of Action 2022 on June 27 last in the Indian Medical Association (IMA) hall at Lamphelpat.

It may be mentioned that Social Awareness Service Organisation (SASO) was established on the 1st January 1991 by a group of drug users who have witnessed and lived the stigma due to HIV and the moralistic approach towards drug use problem. With a goal to serve PUD (People who use Drugs) in Manipur, India and a common mission to build sustainable models for prevention of HIV among PUD (People Who Use Drugs) with rights based approach.


The Global Day of Action is one of the main activities of the SUPPORT. DON’T PUNISH campaign, and take place on or around 26th June each year.

The 26th June is the United Nations International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – a day that on which many government celebrate their contributions to the global “War on Drugs”. In the past, some governments have been commemorated this day by holding public executions or breathing of drug offenders. By taking part in the Global Day of Action, you can help “Reclaim” the message on this important day.

Coincidentally, the 26th June is also the United Nations’ International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – an ironic coincidence given the widespread torture and abuse suffered in the name of the war on drugs.


  1. The drug control system is broken and in need of reform
  2. People who use drugs should no longer be criminalized
  3. People involved in the drug trade at low levels, especially those involved for reasons of subsistence or coercion, should not face harsh or disproportionate punishments:
  4. The death penalty should never be imposed for drug offenders and
  5. Drug policy in the next decade should focus on health and harm reduction.

In 2020, 10% of global resources expended on drug policies should be invested in public health and harm reduction.

By SUPPORT, what SASO meant is:

  1. Protect the human rights of the people who drugs- including their right to health and right to life;
  2. Provide harm reduction services (such as injecting equipment, safer injection facilities and overdose prevention) that have been proven to work around the world.
  3. Provide those in need with appropriate health and social care services. Provide those in need with humane and effective drug treatment.
  4. Make sure these services are funded-by diverting just a small fraction of what we spend on drug law enforcement into the health and harm reduction budgets instead.

By DON’T PUNISH, it means:

  1. Stop demonizing people who use drugs that have been deem illegal
  2. End the criminalization of people who use drugs, as well as other low-level, non-violent drug offenders;
  3. Stop disproportionate responses to drug offences – such as mandatory life sentences.
  4. Stop the systematic abuse of people who use drugs-including at the hands of the police and
  5. End the use of the death penalty for all drug offences.



The 2022 Global Day of Action marks a very special anniversary for the Support. Don’t Punish campaign. For a decade, campaigners in all corners of the world have mobilised decisively to counter the harmful ‘war on drugs’ and the many systems of violence and neglect at its heart, and to build sustainable alternatives based on harm reduction and decriminalisation.

Support. Don’t Punish campaign has grown far beyond the expectations of its original proponents. The road travelled from the first Global Day of Action in 2013, which saw activities in 41 cities of 22 countries, to last year’s Day of Action, with thousands of campaigners in 260 cities of nearly 100 countries, has been challenging but also highly rewarding and punctuated by many victories.

Through hundreds of creative, collaborative and impactful activities, campaigners have put harm reduction, decriminalisation and community engagement firmly on local, regional and national agendas. all while growing people power to ensure no one is left behind.

As part of a broader movement for drug policy reform and harm reduction, campaigners have contributed to shifting discourses, norms and practices around drugs in ways that promote respect, care and solidarity, rather than punishment, discrimination and stigma.

People Who Use Drugs (PuD) are in a much stronger position than they were a decade ago. More countries have implemented decriminalisation models, going from around 25 in 2012 to 35 today. The availability of basic harm reduction services, such as opioid agonist therapy (OAT) and needle-and-syringe programmes (NSP) has increased from 77 countries in 2012 to 86 today. In a similar way, safer consumption sites have expanded, from 86 in 9 countries in 2012, to about 150 in 12 countries nowadays. Drug checking services and naloxone distribution have also become more accessible over the past decade.

They have also seen the expansion and honing of what harm reduction and decriminalisation mean —ensuring that these are not mere legal or conceptual constructs, but transformative and people-centred ideas that should structure public life and translate into health and well-being for our communities.

In parallel, the normative basis to advocate for decriminalisation and harm reduction has consolidated, with unequivocal support from the UN system and multilateral bodies, as exemplified by the United Nations Common Position on drug policy released in 2018, the 2021 Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS and the UNAIDS’ Global AIDS Strategy 2021- 2026.

Their movement is also in closer dialogue and solidarity with sister struggles, and they have seen a progressively growing number of Support. Don’t Punish activities organised by, or in collaboration with, people living with HIV, women, LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, young people, families of incarcerated people, and a long etc.

In preparing for the 10th anniversary of the Support. Don’t Punish campaign’s Global Day of Action, they said that it had reminded of the words of Mariame Kaba, a fantastic antiracist activist and community organiser in the United States, as she says: ‘Everything worthwhile is done with other people’.

For the 2022 Global Day of Action, let us once more show our communities that a different world is possible, and that we can and must build it together.


On this day, here in Manipur, mention maybe made that the programme was graced by Ng Uttam, Social Welfare Director, Professor MC Arun of Anthropology,  Department, Manipur University, Dr A Jayentakumar, SLCA Director, Abhiram Mongjam, Joint Director (TI) , Manipur State AIDS Control Society and Hijam Dinesh, President of HRNM as the presidium members.

Speaking as the Chief Guest, Ng Uttam, D said that illegal sale and extensive use of drugs can be properly tackled if collective efforts are made towards the cause and further said that it will be in the best interest of all if NGOs, CSOs and the people in the State work in unison to fight against substance use rather than finding faults in Government policies and plans.

The other dignitaries also highlighted the importance of making collective efforts to fight against the grave issue of substance use in the State.

(The writer is a Social Activist for People Who Use Drugs (PUD) and a journalist based in Imphal)

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