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Addicted to the cause

 
Michael Lodberg’s singular focus is helping addicts to a more humane existence. Sometimes that means provoking people. Other times that means compromising on your principles

When you sit down to talk with Michael Lodberg about one thing, it’s a good bet you’ll end up talking about something else along the way.

That’s because Lodberg, who goes by the title “social entrepreneur”, always has more than one thing going on.

He’s probably best known for establishing mobile injection rooms for drug addicts in 2011 as a way to get around a national ban, since overturned, on such facilities. But that was neither the first nor the last of his initiatives to help give addicts a better existence.

In 2005, before the mobile injection rooms, he started Café Dugnad, a drop-in centre in Vesterbro, as a place where addicts could come, get warm, and find some food. The impetus for doing so, he said, was straightforward.

“I saw a woman shitting in a phone box. She told me that the city-run shelter had closed its toilets, and this was the only place she could do it in private.”

During the decades he’d lived in Vesterbro, he’d seen the same phone box on Halmtorvet used as a place where people did just about everything imaginable: sleep, urinate, have sex. But it was seeing a woman forced into the degrading situation of defecating there – despite the presence of a nearby public facility – that sparked him to act.

All about addicts

Lodberg’s current project – and the one we met with him to speak about – is the magazine Illegal!. But before we can get down to business, we a chat about his next project: a programme that will distribute overdose antidote kits to addicts.

Addicts, as it turns out, are a common thread in the work that Lodberg does. Whether it is a drop-in centre, an injection room on wheels, or a magazine designed to help addicts earn money, all of Lodberg’s projects seek to treat those with addictions not as problems but as people.

“It’s easy to make a difference if you speak with them about their problem and help them in a way they suggest. They know what they need. I can talk to politicians all day. We might agree about what to do, but nothing will happen because politics, not the problem, takes priority.”

For those that haven’t seen Illegal! or been asked to buy one on the street, it is a magazine modelled on other street papers in that sellers get to keep a portion of the sales price.

Where Illegal! differs is that it that doesn’t try to evoke people’s sympathy for the seller. Instead, it forces potential buyers to face an up-front moral dilemma: by buying the magazine, readers are funding someone’s drug habit (hence the title).

But it also paints this as the lesser of two evils, reasoning that if we give an addict money to buy drugs, he (or she) won’t need to break laws or degrade themselves in order to support their habit.

Lodberg also says the magazine encourages us to think about how degrading life as an addict on the streets is. (Issue 2 described itself on the front cover as “The best alternative to sucking cock on the street”.)

The content of the magazine is a collection of humorous and hardcore articles about drugs and drug culture, all packed in a “hipster cool” design inspired by the left-wing American magazine Ad Busters and ‘ 80s Danish gonzo porn mag Rapport.

For better and for worse

The cool packaging, though, is just a way of getting people to interest themselves in the issue of drugs and the impact that criminal laws against them have. “In reality, what we want to do is inform people. Tell people about what drugs are – for better and for worse.”

Given Lodberg’s singular focus on working with addicts, it came to some as something of a shock – and to many, a provocation – when, around about the time the second issue of Illegal! was coming out, the magazine began to let Romanians and other central European immigrants sell it.

The decision to do so, Lodberg admits, hasn’t sat so well with him.

“I’d rather that we didn’t have to do it, because it turns the magazine into a form of charity and not a self-help. But central Europeans are hard-working, and as a group they are every bit as maligned as addicts.”

People’s opinions about central Europeans don’t help the situation either. “Having them sell Illegal! has ruined our image. I’ve had people call me up and chew me out because ‘I give them hope.’ They might not help our image but with attitudes like that, we need to help them.”

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By Kevin McGwin

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