Labels matter. The words we choose when we talk about people who use drugs can serve to shame and blame, and frequently reinforce negative stereotypes.

Words such as ‘druggie’, ‘crackhead’, and ‘junkie’ overlook a person’s humanity and strip people of their dignity. But labels are just one of the many ways people who use drugs experience stigma.

Stigma around drug use and the people who use them – which can result from, and be a driver of, the criminalisation of drug use – leads to discriminatory treatment in healthcare settings, including the denial of basic services that can protect someone from HIV.

People who use drugs also receive unfair treatment when it comes to housing, employment, and the criminal justice system. This further marginalises people who use drugs and discourages people from seeking support when they need it.

As a result of the stigma and barriers that people who use drugs experience, 1 in 10 new HIV transmissions occur among people who inject drugs, and this figure rises to 20% outside of Africa.



Around the world people who use drugs – particularly those who inject, who are 35 times more likely to be living with HIV than someone from the general population – are being left behind. People who use drugs lack services that can keep them safe from HIV, with just 1% of people who inject drugs worldwide having access to appropriate harm reduction services.

At the Elton John AIDS Foundation, we are committed to ensuring that people who use drugs are free from violence and criminalization, have access to relevant and effective harm reduction strategies and can rely on continued political commitment, funding, and investment to meet their health needs.

We must change damaging narratives around drug use – away from punishment and towards a public health and rights approach, reinforced with love and compassion. – Tom Brigden, People Who Use Drugs Portfolio Lead

Real People. Real Stories.

VOCAL Kenya hand out mask to Mr. Wagwan and others in the community so they can access HIV and harm reduction services safely.

Mr. Wagwan, Community Member, Kenya

Mr. Wagwan lives in Kawangware, Nairobi. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was unable to access the support and care services he needed to manage his health as someone who uses drugs during the lockdown. Voices of Community Action & Leadership (VOCAL) Kenya, a partner of the Elton John AIDS Foundation, assisted Mr. Wagwan with his return to HIV treatment and Opioid Agonist Therapy, a core part of the harm reduction package that reduces health risks for people who use opioids.

VOCAL Kenya also provided masks so that Mr. Wagwan and other people who use drugs in the community could continue accessing services safely.

“I had gotten to a point where I had given up living but them linking me back to harm reduction services and supporting me with transport for a month gave me motivation. I see this as a second chance in life.”

Judy Chang, Executive Director, International Network of People who Use Drugs

"Stigma against people who use drugs is stubbornly persistent because people deem it acceptable and inevitable. Often it seems, we are one of the few groups left, which is perceived as being deserving of pejorative labelling and stereotypes. We are blamed and shamed for being ‘weak-willed’, ‘disordered’ and ‘deviant’, when in reality we are a diverse group of people who have so much to offer and contribute. But stigma, that is very much driven by the war on drugs, is weaponised within society for political ends and purposes, to keep people in check and creates arbitrary divisions, engendering hate and antipathy towards people who use drugs simply for what we choose to consume.

I’ve seen the way stigma harms, marginalises and kills people, ruining lives, and has left our communities struggling for survival. Each of us must commit to challenging our assumptions and misconceptions about people who use drugs, because failure to do so has a cost."

Let’s end the stigma against people who use drugs, so that everyone, everywhere, has access to the services that keep them and their loved ones safe from HIV.

Let’s change how we see people who use drugs.


We are grateful to the International Network of People who Use Drugs, Youth RISE, and NC Survivors Union, who have provided expert knowledge and guidance throughout, which has supported the development of this campaign.


The word 'Druggie' shows on the wall behind Vic, a person who uses drugs.


End stigma to end AIDS