Self-organising sounds like the most normal and easiest thing to do and indeed is often the most straightforward.  The direct and often urgent needs of a community might be quite demanding, but it takes quite a bit of organisational experience and leadership to balance different needs and priorities.



However, there many examples of local organisations that are 100% run by  members of the community.  They have been able to develop good workplace policies and grow into mature organisations.  Good examples are:
NSW Users -  

Over the last years, several regional networks of people using drugs have also been established, such as:
EuroPUD -




There are various benefits to a self-organisation:

  • Clear and transparent representation. “We cannot be represented by others than ourselves.” (Berne Stahlenkranz, SDUU)
  • Peers have ownership of the initiative. They are at the steering wheel and are able to position their initiative however they want.  The strategic significance of independence cannot be underestimated.
  • Easier access to the community. Peers know the ways and the codes of their community and are not hindered by any connection with an agency.  Community members often feel distrust and sometimes a kind of negative attitude from professionals towards their lifestyle, but an embedded initiative cannot simply erase that difference by employing some peers.  An autonomous initiative does not have this distance between the community and an agency.
  • Instant respect and recognition. Being open about sensitive and intimate issues  (such as using drugs and certain using techniques, and sexual relations) requires trust.  For an active drug user, it might for instance be difficult to talk frankly about their way of using drugs with a professional who is not fully accepting of drug use.
  • Advantage in communication. Peers in an autonomous initiative are more likely to be seen as ‘equals’, ‘brave ones’, ‘someone I could possibly be’ than if they were closely related to an agency.  Peers in an agency might be seen by some people as 'traitors'.
  • Autonomy is a motivation booster. The influence of the work of drug users employed by a professional service can be quite limited.  This can result in a weakening of their motivation and  once again  cause feelings of distrust.  After all, there is a certain risk that drug users employed by a professional organisation are, or see themselves as simply being used as a ‘means to an end’ (to reach the ‘unreached’) or even as a tokenistic measure.
  • Freedom to contribute and criticise. An autonomous initiative is free to choose its strategy, its targets, partnerships and style of working.  This is way more complicated to do within the framework of a professional organisation.
  • More flexibility in daily operations. To co-operate with drug users, it might for instance be essential to work outside the usual ‘office-hours’.




The flipside of autonomy and direct involvement is that initiatives are as strong or vulnerable as the strength and weaknesses of the workers and managers involved.

The burden of illicit drug use (and related hassles with dealers, the law, police, treatment agencies, etc) may also hamper the stable development of a self-organisation and there are several examples from (inter)national and local self-organising where this has occurred:  “The actual drug laws and drug policies are a factor in the selection of non-users as coordinators of a user organisation.” (Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal network).