“There are normal people, and there is me, and there is a difference”: voices of the women, who use drugs from Estonia at the 65 session of the CESCR*

In 2017 EHRA together with Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and LUNEST submitted shadow report and presented it at the 62  Pre-sessional working group of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR*) meeting in April, 2018. The report was made based on the study conducted in Estonia in 2017.

In the result the following question was included to the list of issues and on February 18-20, 2019 representatives from EHRA, LUNEST and the Human Rights Clinic from Miami University School of Law joined the 65 session of the CESCR to speak about the human rights violations faced by women who use drugs in Estonia.

We share a direct speech from the Committee meeting – a Statement by NN**, a woman, who uses drugs from Estonia.

Hello, my name is [NN]. I represent LUNEST. I live in Estonia. I have been using drugs since I was 12. Today I have two children.

I want to tell you that people who use drugs are exposed to severe stigma from medical staff. Not only in general hospitals, but also in places which work specifically with people who use drugs. Once I was told by an opioid substitution treatment center staff that there are normal people, and there is me, and there is a difference. That OST is useless, that I will take methadone until my old age, and if I leave, I will for sure come back, as it has happened to many others, as this is not a treatment at all. Many OST workers think that they are distributing drugs. Such rhetoric and behavior are not permissible. It shows a complete lack of awareness of harm reduction among healthcare workers. Such behavior keeps a person away from resocialization, and her self-confidence falls. This can lead to relapse. The rhetoric of hate kills people.

In addition, attitude to personal data is extremely negligent. When I was 13, the police came to our school. They searched children, and some were taken away for drug testing. I was among them. Results of the drug testing should have been known only to parents, but eventually the entire school, every teacher, knew the results. No one has helped me. I was transferred to home education, I was isolated from others. Today the disclosure of personal data leads to the fact that the results of tests that are taken during substitution treatment, are known by social services that can take children away, and blackmail mothers. In addition, staff of substitution treatment centers can call the employer and tell where they call from. People living in the region with the highest unemployment rate in Estonia are losing their jobs. For example, a woman with a small baby recently lost her job that she liked a lot.

Every woman who uses drugs has experienced violence. In my case, I cause small scale health damage to a man while trying to protect myself. I defended myself from a strong man. The police was not interested in my case, and I had to go to hospital on my own and pay for medical examination to certify my injury. I was a woman who used drugs, and the “victim” was a man, obviously stronger than me? No! He was my husband. The police said that I should not fight for our child, because I am an unemployed drug addict, without my own apartment. By that time, I was fired after the employer had learnt that I had used drugs a long time ago. I was told that our daughter would stay with my husband anyway, if he wanted, and I would only get things worse.

In 2012, I was caught by police for drug checking right in the street when I was walking around the city. I haven’t been using drugs by then for five years, and drug test showed methadone along. But a police officer loudly said in the corridor full of people: “I am so tired of you, addicts”. I haven’t used drugs for many years, so I cried.

I have known about the punitive juvenile system since I was 13, and I have never seen anything except deception. No help even when I asked for it. We have no centers where a woman could undergo rehabilitation without leaving the children, but to leave a child in that system even for a while often means to lose a child forever. For example, there was a condition for a woman to leave the methadone program in order to restore custody over her child. Women who use drugs love their children, but I saw how they gave up. When they face violence, they have no place to ask for help, and I have nowhere to go too. No one gives information.

Today I am not even trying to defend my right to see my daughter because she was taken by my ex-husband. Because I know that this can lead to restriction or loss of my parental rights.

Women are afraid to ask for help, I’m not the only one.

Thank you for your attention, I will be happy to answer your questions.


* – Established in 1985, CESCR is a UN human rights body consisting of 18 independent experts that monitor implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by its States parties, which are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented in their countries. The Committee’s rules allow for international, regional, and national organizations and human rights institutions to submit parallel reports with questions for governments in advance of the dialogue with the states.

** – NN asked not to disclose her name because of the fear of prosecution and further discrimination in healthcare and social services settings. NN is also concerned that OST program staff’s attitude to her may be worsened in case of her name disclosure.


p.s. We are pleased to report that the session ended in a high note: two Committee members pressed the Estonian delegation on all the issues we had presented, including the separation of children, Estonia’s harsh drug policy, the lack of OST and ART access, and the needed to end de facto criminalization of drugs, among other issues.