View this email in your browser

Dear reader,

Welcome! Thank you for subscribing to ‘COVID-19 Stories of Substance’, IDPC’s new fortnightly newsletter.

As a member of this dedicated mailing list, you will receive a curated list of news and updates every two weeks, with a specific focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and its various impacts on the drug market, drug policy and related advocacy, harm reduction services, community-led mobilisation/movement, funding opportunities, and more.

Missed our previous editions? You can read them here.

Featured story: COVID-19 and drug policy in Nigeria

This week, we bring you stories from civil society advocates working on harm reduction and drug policy reform in Nigeria, where the pandemic has been devastating for people who use drugs, people in prisons and detention centres, and other marginalised communities.

Too many have lost their sources of income and are now faced with skyrocketing prices of drugs of deteriorating quality, while already limited health and harm reduction services have become less accessible. Amidst increased exclusion and precariousness, overdose rates and domestic violence are reported to be on the rise.

Through IDPC’s COVID-19 Survey, Nonso B. C. Maduka, from the Bensther Development Foundation, noted that movement restrictions caused by the pandemic have forced people who use drugs into more remote and riskier places to live. 

Nigeria’s drug laws are some of the most draconian in the region. The simple possession of small amounts of drugs is punishable by five to twenty years imprisonment, resulting in a growing prison population, seventy percent of which is still awaiting trial

Photo credit YouthRISE Nigeria

According to Seyi Kehinde, of YouthRISE Nigeria, there have been cases where people caught for drug possession have also been victims of extortion by law enforcement officers demanding bribes – forcing people to choose between corruption or incarceration. Organisations like YouthRISE Nigeria have been working to educate stakeholders about evidence-based drug policy and encouraging law enforcement to uphold human rights and adopt strategies that provide alternatives to arrests and incarceration.

Unlikely allies in the fight against mass incarceration

Due to fears of deadly outbreaks in prisons, Nigeria is one of the 109 countries where prison release measures have taken place. More than 3,750 people have been released so far, with thousands more expected to be released based on executive or judicial decisions. Unfortunately, only certain groups of incarcerated people are eligible to be considered for these release measures, such as the elderly, people with health conditions, pregnant women, and people who have nearly concluded their sentences. People charged and/or convicted with drug-related offences have been excluded.

Seyi and his colleagues at YouthRISE Nigeria are responding to this exclusion criteria through advocacy, aiming to ’expand the [government’s] amnesty criteria to include young people and those in prisons for low-level drug offences.’ They are currently focusing on four prisons across the country, reviewing warrants for those held in pre-trial detention, as well as collaborating with legal officers and lawyers.

Responding to the overcrowded and unhygienic state of prison facilities, they began providing COVID-19 preventative materials and equipment such as masks for incarcerated people and prison officials alongside basic hygiene supplies, like soap and hand sanitiser. Interestingly, for Seyi and his colleagues, ’this has also served as an entry point to engage with prison officials and state judges,’ who are now more likely to respond positively to advocacy efforts of civil society actors.

Photo credit YouthRISE Nigeria

From one prison to another, YouthRISE has so far helped secure the release of some young low-level offenders including people held for low-level drug-offences. 

Lessons of advocacy during COVID-19

Nigeria is one of the many countries around the world where COVID-19 has exposed and magnified the need to address existing structural challenges – from fragile healthcare infrastructures to overwhelmed criminal legal systems, from socioeconomic inequality to oppressive drug laws. 

Tapping into this realisation, Seyi said that the COVID-19 crisis simply reminded him of the need for systemic change, as he emphasised in his thought-provoking reflection:
’Drug policy reformers sometimes get carried away with quick small wins – for example with regard to improved access to needle and syringe programmes, which is good – but we also need to approach these issues at its core, meaning focusing on changing the law. At the end of the day, we want a balanced multi-sectoral response to drug use.’

Similarly, Nonso concluded his survey response by underlining the role of COVID-19 in raising questions about the prohibitionist approach to drug policy. COVID-19 ’offers a serious opportunity for more effective advocacy for drug policy reform in Africa.’

When asked about other valuable lessons he and his colleagues have learned during the pandemic, Seyi talked about the importance of cultivating strong networks, strong communities, and strong partnerships. Last but not least, he highlighted the value of continuing to spread messages of empathy and compassion, encouraging people to at least ’imagine how it would feel like to see your children going to prison just because they use drugs.’

Buoyed by the success of the Global Day of Action, when #SupportDontPunish became a Twitter trending topic in the country, Seyi and other advocates are hopeful that things will soon change for the better. As more communities and institutions are becoming better-informed about drugs, the drug policy reform movement is gaining -often unexpected- allies with the courage to speak out against the criminalisation of people who use drugs.
We’ll be sharing more stories like this in the coming months. If you are interested in having us feature your work and/or experience, please consider participating in IDPC’s COVID-19 survey (available in English, Thai, Spanish, French). In case you wish to share your story in writing or via a one-on-one conversation, feel free to get in touch by emailing us at

For now, we have selected a number of informative resources which we hope will help you stay up-to-date on COVID-19 and its impact on drugs and drug policy.
Top Picks

COVID-19, Prisons and Drug Policy: Global Scan - March-June 2020
Harm Reduction International

Harm Reduction International monitored prison decongestion measures adopted around the world between March and June 2020 in response to COVID-19, and found evidence of such schemes in 109 countries.

COVID-19 - Enacting a ‘new normal’ for people who use drugs
International Journal of Drug Policy

The COVID-19 crisis has magnified existing social, economic, and political inequities – in particular those affecting people who use drugs. But could COVID-19 also serve as a momentum to push for structural changes, and hence a ‘new normal’?

Governo do Rio de Janeiro/Marcelo Horn (CC-BY-2.0-BR)

"Vidas Negras Importam": Racism, Police Violence And COVID-19 In Brazil’s Favelas
Talking Drugs

Amidst the coronavirus pandemic which has already claimed 60,000 lives in Brazil, police are still routinely targeting Black people and shooting with impunity. In Rio, an estimated 80% of victims of police killings are Black people.


We Should Also Be Cheering These Frontline Workers
The Tyee

In this photo series, award-winning photographer and writer Jesse Winter highlights the important work of harm reduction frontline workers in Vancouver, because they too are essential workers deserving of praise, acknowledgment, and support.

News & Analyses
Upcoming (Online) Events
Funding Opportunities
More on drug policy and COVID-19 on the IDPC website: News, Publications, Events.
беларуская мова
eesti keel
македонски јазик
بهاس ملايو
Português - Portugal
Tiếng Việt
Copyright © 2020 IDPC, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp