It’s an unmissable statement of unity from within the community – Transform Drugs Policy Foundation has unveiled a striking mural which, undeniably, sends the message that we are collectively impacted by current drug laws.

As drug related deaths rise, Transform has gathered together faces from across the world to project their personal endorsements for drug policy reform. As part of a week of action in the UK, Bristol Take Drugs Seriously, saw an array of outreach events take place. These events aimed to raise awareness of the increasing urgency for a rethink in our attitudes towards drugs and the consequences of drug prohibition and criminalisation. 

Read: The Opioid Epidemic. Why is the US in pain?

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein, a retired US police officer and now a board member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), is one of the many faces depicted in the mural. Diane highlights her own journey and why she now campaigns to amend our drug laws in favour of health and evidence-based alternatives.

“My life has been defined by a series of phone calls, both good and bad. I have always been able to discern these life-changing moments based on the time of the call.”

One day Diane received a call:

“No good news comes after midnight or before the sun rises. After years of battling drug addiction and going in and out of the revolving door of our judicial system, my brother died of an accidental overdose.”

As an Anyone’s Child member, an organisation composed of many other families who have seen the direct consequences of drug related death and criminalisation, Diane Goldstein cites her brother William, Billy, as her inspiration for activism, saying, “I have turned my grief into action”.

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Tragically, Diane is not alone. The newly unveiled mural in Jamaica Street, Bristol, is a poignant reminder that many families across the world are being broken up due to addiction. Alongside Diane stands a long line of fellow bereaved and impacted people, all of whom are burdened by the deep wounds of tragedy, and with personal tales as to why they now campaign to change our drug laws. Appearing in the local media, Aimi Garidis shares her story:

“On the surface Chris lived a wonderful, exciting life, and in many ways it was. But he also had an addiction problem.”

Aimi highlights the loneliness of someone who is battling with dependency, fearing the stigma which can often come with the subject.

“Chris was deeply ashamed of his addiction and struggled to talk even to me about it. Very few of his friends and family knew anything about his problems as Chris feared they would think less of him.”

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Chris passed away, alone, in a hotel room in Barcelona. The strength and purity of the drugs were unknown, making Chris’ death another tragedy of unregulated drugs attached to the stigma of addiction. Aimi makes a powerful case as to why she now dedicates her time to the pursuit of better policies in efforts to safeguard other families from facing the heartache that her and their daughter now go through after having lost Chris:

“The current drugs system failed Chris at many points throughout his life. I believe that if drugs had been legally regulated, Chris would have received the help he needed from the health system and would not have needed to take the impure drugs that ultimately caused his death. I refuse to let my daughter grow up believing her father was anything less than a beautiful, witty, truly brilliant man who had an illness. This wasn’t a choice for Chris. That’s why I’m supporting the Anyone’s Child campaign – to help fight for safer drug control.”

The unveiling of the mural was one of many events that took place during Bristol Take Drugs Seriously, to raise the public awareness to drug policy reform. Bristol MP, Thangam Debbonaire, hosted a book event at Waterstones where she chaired a discussion with Transform’s Steve Rolles, author Legalizing Drugs: The Key to Ending the War, and LEAP UK’s Neil Woods, a former undercover detective and author of Good Cop, Bad War. After the event Thangam Debbonaire went on to say that we need to “regulate the heck out of drugs”, and that “our current laws put people at risk”. Thangam states that we should not be afraid to look at the evidence of how to regulate drugs.

The mural, which was painted by Benoit Bennett, an artist known as Object, depicts the proponents for reform with their sincere and personal signs which name their inspiration for drug policy reform. Some bravely hold a sign as a personal reminder of how they themselves have been personally affected.

Suzanne Sharkey is a former police officer: “The reality was I wasn’t locking up career criminals, or really bad people. I was locking up people that were ill and needed help.”

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Virgin Unite, drug policy reform, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Suzanne is now a board member of LEAP UK and is co-founder of Recovering Justice. Alongside her colleague Fiona Gilbertson, Suzanne now uses her unique experiences to form the basis of her work in reshaping attitudes towards addiction.

“I do feel quite shameful about the work that I did. The negative consequences far outweighed the any benefits. Today, there are more drugs available; they’re cheaper, and they are easier than most people think to be able to get. Drug policy, it’s a failure. It does more harm than good. Our current policy destroys families.”

In the middle of the mural is a pertinent reminder that anyone of us could face similar news of a lost family member. A mirror sits squarely among the ranks of bereaved loved ones, a salient message from those who have faced the unimaginable, and their desire to make sure that others do not go through the pain of losing someone due to ineffective drug policy. As Transform Drug Policy Foundation makes clear – it’s time to get drugs under control. 


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