I have been called an “enabler” while I carry out my job duties. My typical response is something along the lines of  “I’ll agree that I enable time for someone to make a complicated decision.” I have given out Fentanyl test strips with the education of how to use them, Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, and I have even taken the used hypodermics people have given me in exchange for sterile ones to the disposal sites.

 

By Holly Herring
{Trigger warning: addiction, drug use}

“You look sick, Darren” I say as I pull a briefcase out of my trunk.

Darren wipes sweat off his forehead and then returns to holding his arms tightly while he shivers. I’ve known Darren for a few weeks and right now he has money for a hotel room. He holds the door open as I enter his room and start unpacking my laptop. 

“I’m not feeling too good right now. I’m sorry. This is embarrassing. I’m so sorry,” Darren tells me as he sits down on the side of the bed. I notice he cannot seem to hold his legs still. I continue setting up my laptop and after I enter my name and password I look at Darren and decide I need to take a moment to talk to him as one person to another. 

“Darren, I can see you are sick. This assessment I am going to do…it takes a little while. I am going to ask you really personal, intimate questions and some of them might be really triggering. It would probably be a better experience if you weren’t sick. Is there someone you need to call so you can get well?”

In so many words, I just asked this man if he needed to call his dealer so he would be able to get through a traumatizing vulnerability assessment. This was one of those duties that wasn’t included in the job description. At no point in my interview did my interviewer ask me how comfortable I am around illegal drug transactions. 

Darren was still for a bit and then he looked troubled as he asked me, “Would you be okay with that? I don’t know what the rules are. Would you really be okay if I call someone?’ I nodded and pointed at the hotel phone on the table in front of me. “I’ll wait here with you and when you are ready, we can start,” I told him. He reached for the phone and made the call. 

I sat in that hotel room while the salesperson arrived and completed his transaction.

Darren wanted to inject his purchase in the bathroom, embarrassed for me to see. But I told him I didn’t mind if he did that in the room while I was present. I asked him how he keeps himself safe when he’s injecting substances and he broke down how he “tastes” first and that he “goes slow.” “Darren, if you do that here where I can see you then I will be able to call for help if something goes wrong; if that has Fentanyl in it.”

My visit with Darren took four hours and I had only scheduled him for one that day. There was a lot of time where he was lying in the bed, getting well, and he would talk to me about his relationship with substance use over his life and the different things he has tried to stop his substance use in the past. He told me how ashamed he was at what he saw as his weakness because he had stopped once before for almost a year, but then started again.

I managed to get his assessment completed and he thanked me for staying with him. He told me he didn’t like to be alone when he used his substances. I gave him a phone number for a place he can call when he’s alone and injecting and wants to stay safe—alive. 

I do not practice conditional compassion; I practice Harm Reduction.

Imagine if I had left Darren alone in his room to inject what he had just purchased. He didn’t have any test strips that detect the presence of Fentanyl in his drugs and this was when we were just starting to see a lot of it pop up into the supply. If Darren had gotten a large enough unanticipated dose of Fentanyl in his heroin that day and injected it, he might have died in that hotel room and not lived long enough to complete that housing assessment with me or gotten connected to resources that might have helped him.

Recovery is only an option if he is alive. 

I have been called an “enabler” while I carry out my job duties. My typical response is something along the lines of  “I’ll agree that I enable time for someone to make a complicated decision.” I have given out Fentanyl test strips with the education of how to use them, Naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, and I have even taken the used hypodermics people have given me in exchange for sterile ones to the disposal sites. 

You know what else I have done? I have been the ride to treatment for so many of the people who I have served with compassionate Harm Reduction. I have been honored to be the first call when many individuals have decided they want professional help with their substance use.

The fact is, people who regularly use syringe services programs are five times more likely to enter treatment and three times more likely to stop using substances altogether than those who do not use these services. The community benefits from a lack of needlestick injuries without increasing illegal injection of drugs or criminal activity.

 

the truth of suffering

the truth of the cause of suffering

the truth of the end of suffering

and the truth of the path that leads to the end of suffering

I believe that I can use Harm Reduction on the path that leads to the end of suffering a person experiences when they are dependent on substances. Only then will they begin to unravel the truth of their suffering and the cause of their suffering.

Then they have the opportunity to become awakened.

 

 

Did you like this piece? Want to tip the author? Here is her tip jar: https://www.paypalme

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

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