How do criminalization and fear of punishment affect drug users?


The campaign tells eight stories of how criminalization harms drug users, all based on true events.
Photographs by Pernille Sandberg.
Sophie (20) didn't dare report the rape.
She was afraid of being punished for drug use.
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Many drug users are afraid to contact police to report criminal acts committed against them. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to violence and sexual assault.
Peter (18) took his life after being arrested for cannabis use.
The suicide note stated that the consequences were too much for him.
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Punishment is intended to be a burden. To some, this burden becomes so great that they are unable to move on.
Helen (19) died of ecstasy at a festival.
She swallowed all her pills in panic when she saw the police.
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Fear of punishment may cause drug users to put themselves in harm's way to avoid detection. This has led to overdose deaths.
Oscar (23) uses drugs to forget his childhood.
He relives it when the police force him to undress.
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Many dependent drug users have experienced sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences. As long as drug use is a criminal offense, they risk degrading and potentially retraumatizing treatment by police.
Jack (17) used cannabis before being submitted to drug testing.
Now he uses more dangerous drugs that aren't detected by the tests
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Youth do not always quit using drugs when subjected to regular drug testing. Instead, some begin using drugs that are harder to detect – and often more dangerous.
Andrew (22) used drugs to cope with his anxiety.
After he was punished, his drug problem got worse.
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Being treated like a criminal wears on one's psyche. This can exacerbate a drug problem in individuals who are self-medicating with drugs.
No one called 911 when John (21) overdosed.
His friends were high and afraid the police would come.
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Fear of punishment can raise the threshold for calling an ambulance in the event of an overdose. The chance that police will come leads many users to postpone calling or try to handle the situation on their own.
Nobody came for Leo (22) when he became psychotic.
His partner feared the police would find his drugs and deport him.
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Immigrants have greater reason to fear punishment for drugs, since they may risk deportation even over small drug amounts. This can make refugees and others vulnerable to drug dependence or drug-induced psychoses hesitant to seek help.

The #Decriminalize campaign is an initiative by Safer Drug Policies along with several other Norwegian organizations. Working towards a society where all drug users will be offered help and treatment instead of facing criminal prosecution.

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