For those of you who have received the 2nd issue of dodo. you may have seen the Needle Exchange listed under community resources in the back along with loads of other good stuff, most being tons of free HIV/STD testing facilities in Seattle. If you haven’t gotten this issue, I encourage you to. Just hit us up if you want to get a copy for a suggested $1-3 donation.
I specifically listed some of the things in community resources because I am on a harm reduction kick. A lot of people may not be familiar with the term harm reduction but it’s a term used when discussing practices put into place to reduce the harmful effects of simply being human. Harm reduction becomes incredibly controversial when you begin using it to reduce the harm of people with risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol use.
Before I begin talking about behaviors that are stigmatized within our society I want to give a very simple example of harm reduction: seat belts. In order to reduce the number of deaths and injuries due to accidents seat belts are used as a prevention tool. Another example is vaccinations. Although vaccines have recently become controversial when discussing them in children, this example is a pretty easy one to wrap some brains around. Another example I like to give is sex education versus abstinence only programs in schools. Most of us can agree that teens are going to have sex so we might as well teach them how to do it safely so the spread of infection, disease or unwanted pregnancy is reduced and/or eliminated.
I am a huge advocate for providing people with accurate information in order to live as healthy of a lifestyle as possible. When I first discovered harm reduction I couldn’t get enough. Honestly, I still can’t. I love reading about it, discussing it, writing about it and even thinking about it. When someone told me about the needle exchange I nearly fell off my chair. I looked into it, made contact and began volunteering within a week. It is probably one of my most favorite places to hang out. People walk in to this nonjudgmental environment where they don’t have to hide anything. They can get what they need to do what they’re doing in as safe a way as possible. If they’re ready to quit or need support then all of that information is right there. It’s also nice to see how much empathy and understanding the people that run the exchange have for clients. Part of being there is establishing relationships, striking up conversation and just being kind. Basically, being a decent human. Since substance use is viewed in such a negative way I think the clients that come into the exchange become dehumanized within mainstream society, people forget that “they” are people too, that everyone deserves respect regardless of their lifestyle and that we all have struggles.
Some people may think that needle exchanges perpetuate drug use. To me, this is the same as when people say that talking about sex with teens will only promote teen sex. Having an open dialogue with people about safety is a super positive thing. Drug use has been around for a very long time and I don’t see it going away any time soon so why not promote safe drug use? Why not give people the tools needed to know how to inject safely? Why not provide an awesome, free place for people to get clean stuff so they can be a safe, independent user? Because places like the needle exchange exist the spread of infection has drastically been reduced. I will spare you the numbers but I will give you this fun fact courtesy of my volunteer handbook. HIV infection among intravenous drug users (IDU) has been shown to increase by 6% in cities without needle exchange programs whereas cities that do have programs have shown a 6% decrease of HIV infection among IDU. Before I go further I’d like to address stigma, judgment and all around unacceptable attitudes toward those who don’t conform to acceptable societal behaviors. Unfortunately people who use are viewed as “less than” or seen as expendable within our society. Non-users may not care about the spread of infection among intravenous drug users but I can assure you that drug use, disease and infection doesn’t just target homeless people, men who have sex with men, gay people or the lower class. Anyone can be a user and anyone can be at risk of infection when practicing risky behaviors such as intravenous drug use or unprotected sex. All in all, don’t hate or discriminate.
That being said, safety rules. Whatever you do, you should do it safely. Protect yourself and others. Educate yourself on things and use that brain before you judge or assume. If you’d like to talk more about harm reduction please email firstname.lastname@example.org or just say something next time you see me. If you need information on the needle exchange schedule go here, if you want to volunteer I encourage you to do so.
Stay safe and judgment free,