I forget, as I said to one friend yesterday, that it’s maybe a little out of the normal realm of experience to have spent a good portion of your teens and twenties hanging out with heroin addicts. But I did, and despite some pretty fucking significant odds against it, a lot of them are still alive.
When I met them, some of my heroin addict friends and colleagues already had 20+ years in recovery. Some were on methadone. Some were shakily rebuilding their lives (again) after a relapse. Most had gotten clean in the wake of learning they had HIV, which somehow was able to shock their sense of safety and self in a way that none of the other bottoms they’d hit had managed.
So most of these addict friends of mine were actually junkies who were simultaneously struggling with sobriety while also learning about and managing at least one disease—in addition to HIV, most also were living with hepatitis C, and most were struggling too with having to face head-on, sometimes for the first time ever, the mental health and/or sexual abuse issues that had led them chasing after a blissful high to begin with.
I learned a lot from them, not the least of which was how much fucking harder it is to get and stay clean than it is to keep doing drugs.
Today I wanted to share a resource from one great organization I worked alongside and learned a lot from during that time.
Addiction is terrifying and ugly and hurtful and scary to basically everyone touched by it. But there are some very, very smart folks who have spent a lot of the last 30+ years working on the best ways to approach this health crisis in a pragmatic, realistic way that takes into account what we scientifically know might help save lives.
You can start learning more by looking through the Drug Policy Alliance’s website on Harm Reduction.
Here are 3 important things that seem especially important to know right now. The bullet points are mine; the details are from a blog post Drug Policy Alliance put up today:
1. Don’t put off calling 911 if someone has overdosed
New York has a 911 Good Samaritan law, which offers some protection from drug charges for people who call 911 to report a suspected overdose. Many people panic at the scene of an overdose, fearing they or the overdose victim will be arrested for possessing small amounts of drugs.
According to Drug Policy Alliance, 14 states plus the District of Columbia have Good Samaritan laws like this: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts,New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
2. If you live with a heroin user, learn about naloxone, a drug that if administered immediately can reverse opiate overdoses
New Yorkers also have limited access to the opiate overdose reversal medicine naloxone. If administered right away, naloxone can can reverse an overdose and restore normal breathing.
Naloxone is generic, inexpensive, non-narcotic, works quickly and is not only safe, but also easy to use. It’s been around since the 1970s and has saved tens of thousands of lives. New York also just this week introduced legislation to expand access to it.
So many states are just now starting to take some great steps to get naloxone in the hands of more people. Hoffman’s death perfectly illustrates how terribly urgent this is. Even the Office of National Drug Control Policy is supporting naloxone in the hands of cops.
3. DO NOT MIX HEROIN AND ALCOHOL OR PILLS.
If you use heroin and no one has ever told you to avoid mixing alcohol or other sedatives with heroin because it increases your risk of overdose, we have failed you.
So. Educate yourself. Educate your friends. Love each other. Stay alive.
(This isn’t my area of expertise anymore but if you have a question or are hitting a google wall in searching for something related, drop me an ask and I’ll do what I can to help.)