Human being and activist.
Nico had a way with words.
"People expect I will introduce
myself as a heroin addict. Would you introduce
yourself and say, Hello I'm a coffee drinker?"
Letter for Nico
In the night of January 22, 1995, my friend and brother-in-arms Nico Adriaans passed away. Nico Adriaans was the founder and chairman of the "Rotterdamse Junkiebond" (Junkie Union), the first advocacy/activist User Group in the Netherlands. In this capacity, Nico played an indispensable role in changing the face and character of Dutch drug policy. Under his charismatic leadership, in the early 1980s, at the height of the Dutch heroin epidemic, the Dutch drug user movement was able to push the discourse of the slowly developing local and national drug policies away from "compulsory treatment" and "verelendungs philosophies" towards "acceptance," "pragmatism" and "normalization."
While acceptance of drug use and the human rights of drug users were number one on the agenda, the name Junkiebond was carefully chosen and worn with pride, as is for example "Queer," "Faggot" or "Dyke" within the Gay Movement. I remember meetings with representatives of all political parties in Dutch parliament and high-ranking officials within the Ministry of Health. They were flabbergasted... They had never engaged in a serious conversation with a drug user before (in those days their information on users of illegal drugs was filtered through the biased perspective of a largely abstinence-oriented drug treatment system). No, here they were confronted with an eloquent speaker, who debunked dangerous "junkie syndrome" mythology, taught them the basics of street life and demanded sensible, pragmatic policies and services, such as "low treshold" methadone maintenance --nowadays the cornerstone of the Dutch treatment system. Yet, he was ...ahum ah... well... a junkie.
Nico dealt very skillfully with the media. Press contacts were generally carefully prepared as he viewed them as opportunities to educate the general public. The media became an important ally of the Junkiebond. During the summer of 1982, every Friday night, the Junkiebond presented an hour long radio show on the most popular national station.
While he was always willing to talk and negociate with the politicians and the "Treatment Industry," the Junkiebond did not shy away from activist strategies-City hall and offices of treatment organizations were occupied more than once. As a result of meetings and activism, perhaps unique in the world, Dutch parliament passed a motion urging the government to include organizations of drug users into policy making.
Equally important, Nico launched many significant initiatives in the provision of drug services in Rotterdam. Many of these were organised by the junkiebond itself, often in cooperation with minister Hans Visser of the Paulus Church, for example, the cafeteria for users in the church basement; a sleeping facility for homeless users; toleration zones; platform zero; etc.. Nico and Hans Visser constantly explored and stretched the limits of prohibition. Methadone maintenance, for example, was only implemented in Rotterdam after the Junkiebond had organized a guerrilla methadone program to alleviate the shortages of methadone slots. The famous "tippelzone" where (for a large part addicted) street sex workers are officially tolerated, was only established after the Rotterdam Junkiebond filed and won a law suit against the municipality on behalf of, as Nico used to call them, "de meiden" (the girls).
In 1981 the union was already distributing sterile syringes in response to a hepatitis B epidemic. And when HIV became an issue, for years the junkiebond was the only facility where many users went to get their new works. All examples of the practical services addressing immediate needs for which Nico, and the Junkiebond, were reknowned.
Nowadays such low-threshold, non-judgemental, user-friendly services are described with a swanky, but increasingly diluted, term: Harm Reduction. In 1986 Nico started working at the Rotterdam Addiction Research Institute as a "Community Fieldworker." Nico saw his role as that of the tribesman who helped the scientist access and understand tribal culture. When I started working in the institute two years later, I was happy to be that scientist and Nico thought me a lot. For several years Nico worked on my study into the drug taking rituals of heroin and cocaine users. In that role he has made important contributions to science: he was, for instance, instrumental in collecting the first observations of "Frontloading" and other forms of Syringe-Mediated Drug Sharing (SMDS). Practically and symbolically, these behaviors --which seem to be practiced around the globe-are very different from needle sharing, but they can transmit HIV and other bloodborne pathogens just as easily.
Likewise, Nico was one of the first to grasp the meaning of the radical changes brought about by the upsurge of cocaine use in the Rotterdam dope scene. In those later years Nico started changing, became milder, more involved with himself, the people close to him, religion and spirituality. His encounter with "Bwiti," through the use of Ibogaine played a decisive role in his growth. It granted him peace of mind and changed his philosophy of life.
In 1984, the Rotterdam Junkiebond produced and published the first HIV prevention flyer in the Netherlands aimed at drug injectors. Early for many, too late for Nico to benefit from this knowledge. In 1989 he started experiencing vague health problems. Hepatitis. Zoster-twice within six months a telltale butterfly mask crept across his face. In 1992, when Nico was hospitalized after collapsing from stomach pain, he was tested for HIV antibodies and found positive. He was given an AIDS diagnosis that same week.
Although he spoke less, argued less, and painted more, after being diagnosed, he rarely lost an opportunity to educate others, and was shameless and fearless in sharing his HIV status. In a 1993 interview with Mainline, Nico said about death: "What comes afterwards, whether I get wings, whether there is music, whether I will be reborn as a Paramecium, I don't know. But I am not afraid."
Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the
claims of the aging, cautious, nagging frightened flesh. William Burroughs,
The Ibogaine Dossier