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America’s Reactionary Responses to the Opioid Crisis Will Cause More Harm!

Drug users who overdose on narcotics would face jail time and mandatory treatment for substance abuse under new legal action proposed Monday by County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus.

Lazarus asked the county legal team, police and sheriff’s office to determine what laws need to be passed to mandate a 72-hour holding period in jail, citing the growing number of heroin use and repeat overdoses emergency officials are experiencing.

                                                     Deadly Responses to the Opioid Epidemic!
I have been thinking about this all day today.  There is so much wrong with this proposed solution I am having trouble even imagining what people are thinking.
I am the executive director of a national drug user union with 4 official chapters located across the US.  We are proud to report that USU has founded the first official southern drug user union in the US.  I am a firm believer that drug user unions MUST be formed and supported if we are going to actually end the drug war and squash this reactionary insanity that is based on faulty logic and moralistic models of addiction.  User unions are essential because they are made up of former and active drug users who are committed to helping develop policies and programs for people like their selves who have struggled.  They not only provide insight into the why’s , when’s, and how’s, they provide active  and former users an opportunity to become part of the solution which is empowering beyond words.  I bring all this up because I think the development of user unions across the US, with a special emphasis on the south is necessary if we are going to slow these deadly trends.  The south has been very slow adopting harm reduction programs, like syringe exchange and drug use moderation.  Scientific evidence supports harm reduction, and even still the south refuses to implement these strategies. Our officials (who clearly do not have medical or public health backgrounds) would rather try programs like Mr. Lazarus suggested (jailing overdose victims for 3 days (which is the amount of days it takes to detox from opiates).  Scientific evidence has made very clear that fear based health programs and punishment have little to no affect on drug addiction and substance use disorders.  Maia Szalavitz reminds us that addiction is defined as using drugs despite negative consequences therefore continuing to punish people that use drugs has little affect on whether we recover.  If we continue to punish drug users and harm them we will further alienate, stigmatize and break them down we wind up with people who feel hopeless and disconnected from the world.  NO ONE will feel safe going to the hospital, for fear they will be arrested for having drugs in their systems.
 To say that we are going to lock drug users who overdose in jail accomplishes a few things right out the gate: 1) You further criminalize drug use and alienate drug users even more by making not only drug use illegal but criminalizing and punishing the physical manifestations of drug use.  Now for the first time this would mean that if someone overdoses on opiates and winds up in the hospital there is legal grounds or a legal precident set for punishing the overdose itself.   If a person uses too many drugs and begins to throw up uncontrollably, their friends may say hey you better not go to the hospital you know you can be punished for overdosing who knows what happens for just having a bad reaction?  What about abscesses or infections are there punishments for those too?
There are countries where it is illegal to have drugs in your body or bloodstream ….but hopefully this is not the direction we are moving towards.
Allowing policies like this undermine Good Samaritan Laws which have been passed all over the country to encourage drug users to call 911 in overdose situations by granting immunity to people who call 911 in overdose situations.  For the first time ever we would be punishing users (not for using drugs) but for “dying” essentially or requiring medical attention.
This type of legislation will absolutely result in more deaths.  People will not call 911 and when people get out of jail they will have lowered tolerances and be sick and willing to do anything they must to feel better.  This is a perfect storm….Overdose deaths will increase for sure.  Jail is not made to be a medical facility equipped to deal with detoxing tons of opioid addicted residents
I find it problematic that we are detoxing people all over the country in jails and as a result we are hearing about people dying in the most horrific conditions.
Last i checked the people who work in detention centers are not exactly qualified to be running medical detox units.   I know that this is something they do occasionally and not particularly well.
I have detoxed from methadone, heroin, cocaine, alcohol, and xanax in county jail.  Let me give you a picture of what this looked like for me.  I came in terribly afraid knowing what I was going to be facing.  I tried to eat my last meal as I became weaker and weaker the fear ran all over me like impending doom.  I paced around the unit with sweat pouring from all over.  One of the women came a whispered to me that I did not smell very good and asked i I wanted to borrow some deodorant.   I thought to myself you have no idea bitch…things are about to get much worse… I tried to explain that I was about to be very sick.  I asked for a nurse and they told me I would have to put in a request, but you had to have 10$, which I did not have.  I guess they figured it out later because I did eventually see a nurse with no money.  The women on the unit suggested I take a mat over on the floor instead of being in a bed near anyone.  I took their suggestion more out of fear than anything else.  The bathrooms are open to the entire unit. OMG- how could this be.  I was soon going to be throwing up and having massive diarrhea in front of 60 plus women.  This was the most humiliating moment of my life…… I also experience a strange and awful side effect of opioid withdrawal which is spontaneous orgasms…over and over and over.  For those of you who laugh and say nice, I will have you know this was one of the most difficult things for me to deal with.  I was too embarrassed to talk about it -and it made me feel like some sort of gross disgusting person.  I must say this was the thing I was most worried about, it was overwhelming.  Before jail I had never talked about this before, but I was afraid not to ask about it now that I was in jail.  I managed to tell the nurse, I don’t know how I got this out of my mouth.  I was whispering embarrassed and sick and when I told the nurse she looked at me like I was fucking crazy.  I was moved to single cell confinement (Solitary) to finish my time there.  I went through days of not being able to eat, drink, throwing up having diarrhea and have spontaneous orgasms.  I was prescribed Thorazine for the orgasms …I am unsure whether it was useful but it did help me sleep.   I was finally bonded out.  I was so weak I could barely walk.  It had been about 4 days.  The second the fresh air hit my face I was on my way to getting dope so that I could end the hell I had been living.  When I got the drugs I was not thinking about being safe or tolerance change.  I was thinking FUCK I need feel better.  I feel certain this is how people are going to feel after they spend 3 days in jail after overdosing.  They will not even think about how or why they were in jail in the first place because sickness supersedes everything else.
Below are the job qualifications for a correctional officer I don’t really think they are the people that know what to do with spontaneous orgasms and deathly sick detoxing drug users who are scared and in pain. The mission of medical care industry is to diagnose patients, comfort the sick and dying, and cure illness when at all possible; the goal of jail is to confine and punish.  This punitive form of social control called jail, does not resemble the supportive therapeutic milieus required for treating people diagnosed with mental illness.
Anyways back to my original worry.  The perfect storm brewing…..We have epidemic levels of overdose death, record numbers of people of all ages, races, nationalities using opioids either illegally or through prescription drugs.  As a person with a master’s degree in public health and a lifetime of using drugs and working with people that use drugs I believe I have a decent idea of what works and what does not.  Tough Love is never the answer.  Punishing, humiliating, alienation push drug users further and further away from society.  They keep us disconnected, alienated and sick.  Connection and Love is the beginning of the answer that we must demand.  If you are a former or active drug user call URBAN SURVIVORS’ UNION and we will help you begin a drug user union in your area.  If you are one of our community champions then contact us and ask how you can be most useful.  Please help stop this kind of ignorance and harm to people who have been stigmatized and harmed for so long.
Quick Facts: Correctional Officers and Bailiffs
2015 Median Pay $40,580 per year
$19.51 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 474,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 4% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 17,900
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OD- Reversal Instructions

What is an overdose:

Overdose occurs when a person takes opioid drugs or opioids in combination with other drugs, in quantities that the body cannot handle. As a result, the brain is not able to carry out normal body functions. The person may pass out and stop breathing, and in extreme cases, have heart failure, or experience convulsions. Overdose can be fatal, and is one of the most common causes of death among opioid dependent users.


  1.  ****Mixing Drugs puts you at increased risk for overdose!   SYNERGY OCCURS:  1 + 1  = 10

Benzos and opioids,   alcohol and opioids,   cocaine and opioids

These combinations are DANGEROUS!

2.    Change in Tolerance:  Trying not to use, being in a rehabilitation or jail, cutting back, …..anytime you stop using or cut down your use, your tolerance decreases.  This puts you at an increased risk for overdose.

3.    Change in Purity or Supply-  When you get drugs off the street you never know what you are getting.  Test shots help also talk to your dealer.  Buy drugs from people you have relationships with talk to them.  Tell them the dangers.  Believe me they have just as much at stake.  They want their customers to live.

4.  Physical illness or recent infections: If the client is weak due to recent illness, dehydration or under nutrition, then the person will not be able to handle the same dose as of a healthy body. Overdose is more likely if liver and kidneys are not working well. In case of poor health, a smaller dose of opioid can also produce overdose.

5.  Mental health: In case of mental illness such as depression, an opioid user may overdose as a way of attempting suicide. The user can also get very frustrated trying to fix a shot and this can cause them to become careless about how much the are using.

6.  Past overdose events: Recent research has shown that people who have overdosed in the past are at much greater risk of future overdose. If client has overdosed in the past, then he may be at a greater risk of overdose in the future. IDU TI programmes should highlight the risk of repeat overdose and train outreach staff for providing education/awareness and Naloxone distribution among people with past overdose experience.

7.   Methadone or buprenorphine increases overdose risk, especially with methadone. As methadone is a long lasting and potent opiate. Use of depressants such as alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines should be avoided when on methadone or buprenorphine.

8.  Drug Interactions with antiretroviral and other prescription medications: Different drugs used in HIV and tuberculosis treatment can increase the risk of overdose or cause withdrawal symptoms in people dependent on opioids. If one is taking antiretroviral therapy along with other legal or illegal drugs, it’s always best to consult one’s doctor.




 Can’t be woken up by noise or pain  Blue lips and fingernails due to lack of oxygen  Slow breathing (less than 1 breath every 5 seconds)  Gasping, gurgling, or snoring  Choking sounds  Passing out  Vomiting  Pale face  Tired body

REMEMBER- overdose occurs between 1 and 90 minutes from using the drug.  This is not the movies!  1 to 3 hours is a long time.  Make sure you stay with the people you use with.  Don’t let people go into the bedroom and lock the door when they are getting really high.

OVERDOSE is most likely occurring if:

Coma: A state of unconsciousness, in which a person cannot be awakened and fails to respond to painful stimuli, light or sound. Usually, an IDU in a state of intoxication, seems drowsy and he can be aroused from this state of drowsiness. However, in case of overdose, he cannot be aroused even after calling his name or a painful stimulus (such as rubbing the sternum).

Pinpoint pupils: Constriction of the pupils, in which the pupils become smaller in size than normal. An IDU may have smaller pupils when he is intoxicated, and has larger pupils when he is in withdrawals. In case of overdose, the pupils become very small and do not dilate when a light is thrown on the eye using a torch. This is termed as ‘pinpoint’ pupils, where the pupils appear like a pinhead

Respiratory depression: Difficulty in breathing, in which the rate of respiration (number of breaths per minute) decreases. Normally, one breathes (inhales and exhales air) 12 – 20 times a minute. Opioids depress the respiratory centre of the brain. As a result, the number of breathes per minute decreases (less than 12/ minute) in overdose. Due to severe respiratory depression, enough oxygen does not enter the body that results in finger nails and lips turning blue, drowsiness, resulting in coma. It is very important to recognise these signs as early as possible when dealing with an opioid user. Early detection of overdose leads to better chances of recovery.


Following are the basic steps to respond effectively to most opioid overdose cases. The steps can be best remembered by an acronym “SCARE ME”

S – Stimulation (wakening): This is the first step in overdose management and can be done by the people around the client.

C – Call for medical help: If the client doesn’t respond to stimulation then, immediately call for medical help. This can be done by client’s relatives in case overdose happens at home. But in case it happens at DIC or during outreach, then the TI staff should be equipped to handle such situations.

A – Airway: Make sure there is nothing in the throat and the airway is clear of blockage.

R – Rescue Breathing: If someone is suffering from opioid overdose, getting oxygen into his/her body is very important. The TI staff should be trained on rescue breathing as it is the MOST important response to opioid overdose.

E – Evaluate: If the client is breathing or not.

M – Muscular Injection of Naloxone: Injecting the client with Naloxone is an extremely effective way to reverse overdose. It can be given by trained clinical staff of TIs or by emergency medical personnel.

E – Evaluate and Support: Since overdose is unpredictable and involves many factors, it is important for TI staff to monitor and support the client for at least an hour or two.


Chicago Recovery Alliance



Using Naloxone To administer Naloxone, follow these steps:

A. Preparing Naloxone for injection While you prepare the Naloxone, make sure the client (who has overdosed) is being looked after or put him in the recovery position to make sure he doesn’t choke.

Break the ampoule low enough so that the needle can be inserted far enough in to draw up the Naloxone.

Insert the needle, ideally use a long, intramuscular needle (usually 3 cm or longer), and draw up all the Naloxone into the syringe. 

Push the plunger down to clear air from the syringe before injecting, just as you would before injecting drugs. B. Injecting Naloxone

Remove clothing and clean the injection site with an alcohol swab before injecting.  Inject the Naloxone into the upper arm/shoulder or outside of the thigh.  It’s best not to inject in the butt, since there is relatively more fat, absorbing Naloxone will be slower.

Don’t waste time trying to inject in a vein, it’s difficult and unnecessary.

After you’ve given Naloxone

The effect of Naloxone will begin within one to five minutes and it lasts for 60-90 minutes.

During that time, the client still needs to be monitored.

You should continue rescue breathing if he is not breathing well on his/her own.

If the person has not responded to Naloxone within 4 minutes, you should administer another dose if you have it.

If the person does not respond to the 2nd dose, the problem may be something other than opioid overdose and you should call for help if you haven’t already.

Naloxone is usually active in the body for 60–90 minutes, which is a much shorter period than most opioid drugs. Because of this, it’s possible that an overdose could return after the Naloxone wears off. If overdose continues and comes back, repeat all the above mentioned steps until the person has recovered.

It is important to monitor someone who has overdosed for a couple hours afterward to make sure he/ she is fine.

Explain to the client who has overdosed what had happened to him/her and advise him/her not to use more drugs.  Naloxone’s intervention is visible as the client usually wakes up suddenly, opens his/her eyes and takes a deep breath.

Withdrawal Symptoms after Naloxone injection

While treating opioid overdose, Naloxone may cause mild to severe withdrawal symptoms for someone who is dependent on opiates.

It is important to provide continuous medical support and counselling to clients for couple of hours after giving Naloxone.

The signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal in a patient physically dependent on opioids may include, but are not limited to, the following: body aches, diarrhea, tachycardia, fever, runny nose, sneezing, sweating, yawning, nausea or vomiting, nervousness, restlessness or irritability, shivering or trembling, abdominal cramps, weakness and increased blood pressure




DO NOT EVER:  Don’t leave someone who’s overdosing alone except if you absolutely must leave the area to call for help; the client could stop breathing and die.  Don’t put the client in the bath; it could lead to death.  Don’t serve anything to drink or induce vomiting; the client could choke.  Do not make him/her drink salt water, or put salt in the mouth. This does not help. On the contrary, he/she may choke.  Do not inject salt water as this is dangerous and can cause sudden death among the clients.

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On March 13, 2016 my life changed.  It changed forever and not in the kind of way I would ever wish on a person.  My dear daughter, Selena died of a drug overdose while she was in treatment.  I woke up to my mother knocking on my door.  I was dead asleep!  I heard banging that I could only equate to police banging on my door.  To be honest I was sitting in my bed in silence frozen for a few minutes halfway expecting for the door to be bashed in and police to be everywhere.  That is not what happened.  I heard my phone ringing, the doorbell ringing and knocking all at the same time.  I quickly realized it was my mom and something must be very wrong.  I opened the door only to see in her eyes that something was absolutely wrong! Her mouth opened and out came the words a mother never wants to hear.  “Selena is dead Louise”….

How could this be.  How could my reason for living be gone.  It has been months now.  I have cried.  I have slept.  I have worked with no breaks trying not to even think of her.  I fall to pieces every time I think of her.  Every time I see a picture.  I feel empty inside as if everything I ever cared about has been removed from my heart.  I keep on though.  I don’t know what else to do.  I have  worked in harm reduction for a decade.  I help people who are in dangerous situations prevent harm to theirselves.  How could this be rings over and over in my head!  Why?  How? What the Fuck?

I must admit, I feel a little picked on. Its been a rough couple of years.  I lost my leg due to a hit and run I was in a few years back.  I thought I would never make it through those dark times.  When I was ready to give up it was only Selena that stopped me from ending my own life.  Now here I am lost without the girl who meant everything to me.  Lost.  Wishing I had more time.  Damn it Selena I miss you so much it is so painful.

We are having an event on August 11, 2016 to celebrate life and to remember those lost to overdose.  I am working hard to plan this event….keep my mind on something that can help folks.  Please come out and spend some time with us. Help share a harm reduction message of hope.


August 11, 2016—-Castle Mc Culloch, Jamestown, NC



Harm Reduction Speakers including Maia Szalavitz author of Unbroken Brain.

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Drugs helped me live—it’s the policy that’s killing me

From the age of 13 my life has been a battle.  I honestly believe if I never found drugs I WOULD have killed myself.  I believe this with all my heart.  I saw glimpses of this struggle to live in my sweet daughter who is no longer with me.   She died a few months ago to an overdose of opiates —-.  That is not why she really died though.   She died because of the SHAM of our mental health system in America. She died because drug users are not treated like people but more overdoselike societies throw aways.   She died because policy makers care only about votes, nothing about truth, and our delicate ears prevent us from actually listening to a person like me-a felon.  Well, here is my truth.  A truth that is so difficult to hear that most people will write it off as sick—or discredit me as high- or some other such nonsense.

Most people that love someone who has struggled with chaotic drug use and addiction are angry.  They are angry at the drugs.  They are angry that “drugs have stolen their child”  This is NOT my story.  I am angry, but the drugs, they are not what I am angry at.

My drug use, while it is considered illegal in nature, is no different than the drugs psychiatrists have fed me for years.  My drug use caused terrible problems namely because it was illegal.  It is illegal because in 1914  lawmakers passed the Harrison Narcotics Act.  They decided that cocaine gave black men super powers made them crazed and dangerous to white women!  The morphine was lulling white women into opium dens and heaven forbid we let anyone of color put their hands on our white women.

Drugs have tempered my emotional insanity —-calmed me, stayed with me, and kept me feeling safe in a world of hypocrisy and bullshit.  No one becomes a drug addict because everything is working out well.  The story I hear more than any other from people like myself is that without the drugs the emotional upheaval feels insurmountable.  They chaos and pain people like myself endure on a day to day basis is in explainable and intolerable.

 The drugs made it possible for me to live.  If not for the absolutely insane policy, the drugs would not have destroyed me and everyone I love.

I ask you this, do people that use drugs have drug problems, or drug policy problems? And which ones are the ones ruining the lives of so many people?

If cigarettes were made illegal today peoples lives would become out of control and insane because cigarette prices would go through the roof.  Every smoker in America would become a felon.  People would loose jobs, families, everything!

The insane overdose rates are not just something to expect when loads of people are doing heroin or taking opiates.  Heroin addicts pay tons of money for little bits of drugs, they often don’t have enough money or dope to do test shots, or try little bits to see how strong it is.  Many don’t even know this is important because we don’t offer real drug education.

Lots of people are overdosing leaving jails and rehabs, this is because jails and rehabs refuse to acknowledge that people who use drugs will use them after they leave their facilities and their chances of dying increase dramatically due to tolerance changes.

Naloxone is essential to have around but the local news around here reports overdoses one after another with no mention of the overdose reversal drug NALOXONE.

Health—well yes, you have me there.  Drugs are not great for peoples health, but neither is trans fat.  Adulterated drugs that people buy on the street from people are often very harmful, but this is another function of drug policy.

As I have grown older I have learned to cope without drugs.  I am able to deal with life better.  My emotional insanity has either lessened or I have learned to cope better.  I have essentially aged out! The drugs were never my biggest problem.  The deadly policies around them……well, those are dangerous.

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