Harm Reduction: The Answer to Community Drug Issues

There has been a lot of talk lately about the effects addicts have on the community. Especially when it comes to addicts using in cars parked in neighborhoods, syringes and other paraphernalia being found around our communities, and theft of personal belongings especially from cars. People in the community are up in arms about it. They want it dealt with, they don’t want to see it, they don’t want their children to see it.

The problem here is not that we don’t have solutions to these problems. We absolutely do. Progressive societies, especially the Nordic ones, have come up with some great alternative solutions to these exact problems. So why don’t we implement them? The answer is that people who have absolutely nothing to do with addiction, are not addicts themselves, do not work in the field, but live in the community, feel that they know what’s best for us and are so vocal to town administrations that it prevents these solutions from being utilized.

The issue is that these progressive solutions are not understood by the community at large. Harm reduction strategies seem “soft” or “counterproductive” or “enabling” to people on the outside, and even to some people on the inside. They are not ultimately fixing the problem, they are reducing the harm associated with the problem, which is why we call it harm REDUCTION.

If you don’t want to see active addiction in your community, you have to give it a place to go.

There are three big harm reduction strategies that address the problems our communities are facing.

1. Needle Exchanges

Needle exchanges are the easiest to implement, and the less invasive of all the harm reduction strategies I’ll be addressing. They can be mobile or stationary and there are advantages to both. Mobile exchanges are great because they can go to high traffic areas for drug users and meet them where they are, which makes it easier for many addicts to access their services. This works best in larger cities. In smaller communities, especially those that are more upward socioeconomic areas, a stationary facility can be a good option as well. Being stationary can provide more space for more services, so that the facility can possibly employ other agents who can assist addicts in other ways.

This directly deals with the issue of drug paraphernalia being left in streets, parks, parking lots, and other areas of the community. This is becoming an issue in a lot of towns, so why not confront it head on by creating a safe place to dispose of dirty works? Most towns have no place where people can safely dispose of syringes, even for diabetics! These facilities typically give one syringe for every one that is turned in. Even in the instance that they do provide syringes without exchanging them, people need to understand that syringes are not hard to come by. They can be purchased in bulk on the internet, and can be picked up in quantities under ten at many pharmacies. It’s not that these facilities are giving out contraband that cannot be obtained any other way. Addicts have always, and will always, find what they need when they need it. Needle exchanges are the answer to used and dirty paraphernalia in our communities.

2. Safe Injection Sites

Another big problem we are seeing in our communities is people parked in cars on neighborhood streets, people in public restrooms, parking lots, and other public places using drugs. Many addicts cannot go home to use because they are hiding from their families or the people they live with. I know many addicts who unfortunately have children in the home, whether the children are theirs or a relatives, and they don’t want to bring drugs into the home. Worst of all, many addicts are homeless and don’t have a safe place to use.

Providing these facilities gives addicts that safe place they need to take care of their business. It keeps addicts out of public places where they can be seen by residents, especially children. This also contributes to the work of needle exchanges in that it keeps works off the streets.

The best and most useful part of these facilities is that they virtually eliminate overdose deaths. They are typically staffed with medical professionals who can intervene in the event of an overdose and administer Narcan and life saving measures. Furthermore, they typically have counseling staff on hand to help those who are ready to get clean. They can fast track addicts into treatment and eliminate many of the barriers to getting clean.

Of course, no one wants one of these facilities in their neighborhood.

We have enough trouble opening methadone clinics in our communities. People seem to believe that these facilities bring addicts to the area, not understanding that addicts are ALREADY THERE. These facilities help addicts to stay alive long enough to hopefully get clean when they are ready.

3. Heroin Assisted Treatment

The most controversial of all the harm reduction strategies that exist in the world is heroin maintenance, or Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT). Many countries utilize this program in a similar way to how the United States utilizes methadone maintenance programs. The clients are provided with a safe, synthetic heroin several times throughout the day and must use it at the facility. These programs are sometimes used in conjunction with methadone.

While this seems contradictory, it has had incredible success in Europe. Statistics show a decrease in illicit drug use overall, a lack of appeal of heroin to young people, and of course a virtual elimination of overdose deaths. Many people reduce their dose over time, just as with methadone, and eventually get their lives together. The idea is to taper addicts off over a long term, while providing counseling and other resources to help them eventually get off the drug all together.

While methadone works perfectly well for millions of people, some do have an aversion to the medication. Many people continue to use heroin in the early stages of methadone therapy, so these programs are basically providing addicts with a safer way to do what they’re already doing anyway. That’s what harm reduction is all about: Making addicts’ lives safer until they are ready to get clean.

Programs like HAT, while controversial, solve the problem of neighborhood crime. Our communities are seeing more and more petty theft such as car break ins, theft of landscaping equipment off trucks in neighborhood streets, and the theft of building materials from construction sites. This petty theft is how many addicts support their habits. HAT programs provide the narcotics that addicts need to prevent dope sickness, and are a reliable alternative to tainted street heroin. These programs keep people alive, period, and that should be enough in and of itself.


People hate the idea of harm reduction strategies because they see it as enabling. However, these strategies exist to help people be safer while engaging in behaviors that they are already going to engage in, regardless of whether the harm reduction strategy is implemented or not.

Something to consider while you’re rolling your eyes at these life saving strategies is that what the United States does and has done to deal with drugs has not and will not ever work. Incarceration doesn’t work. Making an addict a felon will not help them to live in sobriety. Prohibition has never worked. Police crack downs have never worked.

We really need to look at other progressive countries who have the actual science and statistics to back up their policies. Our insistence as a country of doing things our own way, despite plenty of evidence that illustrates that our way is not working, is allowing people to die in record numbers. Eventually, these programs will be proposed in your town. When that time comes, please ask yourself if you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution. Trust science. Trust statistics. Be willing to open your heart and change your mind.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Unpopular Opinions: Marijuana For Good

When it comes to the fight against substance abuse, especially geared towards students and young people, many communities are still wasting precious time and resources trying to fight against the inevitable legalization of medical, and eventually recreational, marijuana. While hundreds of people die every day due to heroin and other opioid related overdoses, we know that no one has ever, in the history of the world, died from an overdose of marijuana.

That doesn’t mean like with every single drug and/or medication out there that there are not risks. True that driving under the influence of any substance, marijuana included, is dangerous and can cause serious injury and death to not only the driver and passengers, but other innocent people on the road. It is true that we don’t fully understand the impact marijuana has on the growing and developing brain and body, so keeping individuals under the age of 18 from using this substance isn’t a bad idea. I certainly don’t object to efforts to keep kids from experimenting with marijuana until they are of legal age, just like we do with alcohol.

Fighting to keep marijuana illegal, whether it’s medical or recreational, is a complete waste of resources and it is a fight that will not be won by opponents of legalization.

Marijuana is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, mood and mind altering substances in the world. It has been used by humans for thousands of years for both medical and recreational purposes. We know that it is not a drug that causes fatalities. We know that less than ten percent of users develop an addiction to the drug, which is characterized not by regular use but by any negative consequences associated with that use. Smoking weed everyday, just like drinking a glass of wine everyday, does not make one an addict. Being unable to go to work or school because of the consumption of the substance, or financial issues resulting from money spent on the substance, or the ability to live a functional life due to the substance would indicate a possible addiction. This is extremely rare when we talk about marijuana, just like with alcoholic beverages. Many people consume alcohol on a regular basis, with about 70% of Americans reporting drinking within the past year.

However, just like with marijuana, less than 10% of individuals who drink have a problem with alcohol consumption.

So why is marijuana illegal while alcohol is not? Many people believe that it goes back to industries that lobbied to make hemp illegal because it would be a more cost effective alternative to their products. Hemp is an incredible resource that can be made into paper, textiles, and hundreds of other everyday products, so other industries vilified the drug itself to prevent it from harming their business and bottom lines. Other reasons trace back to early immigrants who used the drug, so just as we do today, the white people vilified the drug because it was linked to brown immigrants who they considered dirty, lazy, and undesirable. We are all familiar with the prohibition of alcohol, and the propaganda used against it. It has been much the same with the prohibition of marijuana.

Many people in the treatment industry believe that if one is sober, that they need to abstain from every mind altering substance out there. This is the way promoted by Twelve Step fellowships, and consequentially this is the philosophy held by the majority of those who work or live in recovery. Just like each person gets recovery in their own way, the parameters of what recovery means can be different for different people. Many people in recovery from drug use are able to drink alcohol without consequence, and the same is true of casual use of marijuana. It is up to each of us as individuals to decide what recovery means to us.

When it comes to opiates, marijuana has been used for decades, probably even longer, to help with the withdrawal effects. Historically, people who couldn’t afford to get on methadone or receive other kinds of treatment have turned to marijuana to help with both acute and post acute withdrawal. Many people use it just like methadone or Suboxone, as an unofficial maintenance program to help them cope with the long, years long process, of staying off opiates. If we can treat opiate dependence with marijuana instead of other opiates, then why shouldn’t we? Isn’t it a better alternative than staying dependent on methadone or Suboxone for years on end? Some states get this, and are trying to move forward with “marijuana maintenance” programs for those addicted to opiates.

In the same vein, isn’t it better to prescribe marijuana for various medical conditions than the alternative of prescribing dangerous opiates and benzodiazepines? The dependence and side effects of these drugs are so dangerous and even deadly, while the alternative of using marijuana is much safer. I’d rather see a chronic pain patient smoking weed or using CBD’s to treat their condition that spending their life dependent on an ever increasing dose of oxycodone.

We’ve all seen the videos online of people having seizures, or episodes of indescribable pain, and using marijuana almost instantly reverses the symptoms. It is inhumane to allow people, especially children, to suffer from pain, discomfort, or crippling anxiety when we have a drug that can be used to treat it with little to no side effects. There are countless strains of marijuana that can be used for all kinds of issues. Each strain has a unique set of traits that can be applied to almost any illness or condition.

Legalization would provide an incredible amount of tax revenue to our communities. It could solve a great deal of budget issues. Furthermore, it would drastically reduce the number of people that are incarcerated for possession or sale of marijuana. It would put a significant dent in our prison overcrowding problems. It would significantly lessen the traffic through our courts and drastically reduce the number of people who participate in diversion programs and who are on probation. It would lower the number of children who are placed into foster care, and parents who are trapped in DCF programs, simply because they use marijuana. This is basically the equivalent of taking the children of parents who drink alcohol, and since most adults in this country drink, everyone should be able to see how ridiculous this policy is.

When opponents of marijuana are asked to explain their argument, they have nothing but junk science and skewed studies to support their position. Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and in all honestly probably less so. We are spending copious amounts of money to keep this drug illegal. We have to pay police, prosecutors, public defenders, advocates, court employees, treatment centers who run diversion programs, and an endless list of people and agencies. It costs a lot of money to keep this drug illegal, while legalizing it would actually GENERATE money. Dispensaries could bring jobs to our communities. Imagine the research that could get done on so many different diseases and medical conditions once we work to eliminate the stigma associated with marijuana.

Marijuana is just as valid of a medication as pain killing opioids, with a fraction of the risks associated with them. It is also just as safe of a recreational drug as alcohol, if not more so. The health risks are really in the ingestion method, which is typically smoking. However, using cannabinoids and marijuana itself in other ingestion methods would eliminate this one potential danger. We can do better when it comes to the ways we treat many different diseases and conditions, including the terrible issue we have with opioid dependent individuals. We need to focus our energies on the prevention of dangerous drug use, like that of opiates, and stop wasting our time and other resources fighting something that just isn’t worth the battle.

Rather than a danger to those in recovery, marijuana could be, and to many people already is and has always been, a blessing.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Unpopular Opinions: Recreational vs. Hard Drugs

When we talk about prevention, we’re always focused on the parents. We have forums for parents to learn about drugs. We send home notices and we publish articles. We try to reach parents so that they can try to reach their kids. But the problem is that the message that reaches our kids is not sufficient. It isn’t working. “Just say no” and “drugs are bad” is not, nor has it ever been, effective at stopping kids from experimenting with drugs.

By the time they graduate high school, almost HALF of American teens will have tried marijuana at least once. Kids are inclined to try recreational drugs, which includes alcohol, because alcohol IS a drug. There are so many reasons that drive kids to experiment with drugs. Celebrity culture glamorizes drug use. Kids want to do anything that makes them feel older, like an adult. More than anything else, drugs can be fun. Just like the average person goes to the bar, has a few drinks and has a good time, recreational drugs can provide that same social energy and party atmosphere. People do it because it’s fun.

But heroin addicts are not having a good time. Drug addiction is NOT fun. There is no social, party time atmosphere for most junkies. There is a difference between recreational drugs and hard drugs. This is an unpopular opinion. Parents and school administrators want to cast all drugs as bad, and leave no wiggle room for experimentation. This is totally unrealistic, and just as ridiculous as abstinence only sex education.

We know that in areas that promote comprehensive sex education and access to contraception, the benefits are enormous. Teens are 50% less likely to get pregnant than those who receive abstinence based education according to a study by the National Survey of Family Growth. Advocates for Youth reviewed comprehensive sex education programs and found a significant delay in first sexual encounters; declines in pregnancy, HIV and other STIs; increased use of condoms; increased use of other contraception; reduction in the number of sexual partners and increased monogamy; and reduced incidences of unprotected sex. Despite all this success, comprehensive sex education is still fought by conservatives.

Science illustrates to us that education actually decreases the dangerous behavior that parents are afraid of. The same is true of drug education. Providing fact based, scientific drug education is likely to have the same results as providing fact based sex ed.

Kids are autonomous. They make their own choices. Yes, they are influenced by their parents, and parents should always outline expectations for risky behaviors including sex, drinking, and drug use. Parents should make it clear what they will not tolerate, what the consequences are, and what the real dangers associated with the behavior can be.

But maybe we need to let kids make their own choices, since they go ahead and do that anyway. Focusing on the difference between recreational and hard drugs allows kids to see that not all drug use is the same. If they smoke pot or drink a few beers and don’t suffer any of the scare tactic consequences they heard about from adults, they start to believe that all drugs are the same and none of them have real consequences. They start to believe that only weak people become addicts, and that they can totally control this, and it’s just all in fun. This is a direct consequence of painting marijuana and heroin with the same brush, and the same scheduling by the government. Both drugs are Schedule I, meaning they have no medical purpose, even though many states have begun recognizing medical marijuana. This allows the justice system to prosecute all drug offenders the same way.

In every direction in our society, we are lumping all drugs together, calling them all bad, and then calling it a day.

Make no mistake, I am not advocating for the use of any drugs. I suggest we attempt to influence our youth not to pick up any drugs, no matter how harmless they may seem. However, we need to be realistic. Kids should understand that all drugs are dangerous, but some drugs are even more dangerous for different reasons.

Only 9% of marijuana users develop what professionals call an addiction to the drug. This is an unlikely consequence for those who try smoking pot. However, those who try prescription painkillers thinking they are also a recreational drug are in for a rude awakening. Those who try prescription painkillers are almost TWENTY TIMES more likely to try heroin. Four out of five heroin users today started with prescription painkillers. Those are pretty significant statistics. Kids, and adults included, look at medications like recreational drugs because they come from a doctor and are legal when prescribed, which implies that they are considered safe to use.

Opioids, along with methamphetamine and crack cocaine, are the most dangerous and habit forming drugs out there. These drugs are NOT recreational, party time drugs. There is a big difference between going to a party and dropping some ecstasy on a Friday night and picking up one of these dangerous drugs, thinking it’s going to be a one time thing. Kids know meth is dangerous, they’ve seen the pictures of the addicts with missing teeth and open sores on their faces. They know crack is dangerous, they’ve joked about crackheads picking lint out of the carpet thinking they’ve found a tiny rock to smoke. And of course, they know heroin is dangerous. They’ve heard the stories of famous musicians living under bridges and shooting dope. It’s the prescription painkillers that they don’t understand the danger of.

Kids should be taught that prescription painkillers and street heroin are the same thing, because that is the truth. They should know that when they pick up one of those little blue pills, they are doing pharmaceutical grade heroin, and their brain and body interpret it as heroin. If they swapped that blue pill for a bag of dope, and ingested it in the same manner, they would experience the same high. These drugs are the SAME.

I did a lot of partying in high school, and spent many Friday nights drinking, smoking weed, rolling on E, and blowing lines of coke off of my math book. I partied pretty hard and so did a lot of my friends. Not a single one of us became addicted to any of these drugs. Not a single person became a felon because of these drugs. Everybody still graduated from high school and went to college. The behavior was dangerous, illegal, and extremely risky. I don’t condone it, and I don’t recommend it, but that is the reality of life for many high school students in America. They party. They have a good time. They still succeed in school and play sports, and they still go to college and become productive adults. The vast majority of people I did recreational drugs with in high school are all doing just fine today as adults.

The people who are not fine, are the ones who picked up the painkillers. While a handful of people did experiment with the pills and were able to move on, most of the people I know who got caught up in prescription narcotics in my graduation year of 2006, are still dealing with the ramifications of that choice today, in one way or another.

I didn’t understand that these drugs were different from all the other drugs I tried. I didn’t understand that this wasn’t a party drug. I didn’t know there was a physical dependence, meaning that I would get physically ill from withdrawal, and that it would happen whether I was mentally addicted or not.

We need to focus on the difference. We need to highlight what separates opioids from recreational drugs. I know this is an unpopular opinion. I know that no parent out there wants to think of their kid playing beer pong in their garage after school while parents are at work, or smoking weed in the woods behind the house. This is reality. You know this, because when you were a kid, you probably experimented with drinking and some recreational drugs yourself. You know in your heart there is a good chance your kid will experiment. You need to make sure they know the difference between smoking a joint and taking a opioid medications (which probably seems less harmful to them than the joint).

Ideally, kids would stay away from drugs and not drink until they turn 21. This is not reality for most young people. This is why we need to focus on highlighting the dangers of hard drugs vs. recreational drugs. We need comprehensive, fact and science based drug education that illustrates these differences. We need to work on harm reduction, and we will be much more likely to see positive results.

Think about this when you talk to your kids about drugs. Remember that when you misrepresent the dangers of some drugs, you undermine the danger of other drugs. Don’t undermine the danger of opioids by putting them in the same basket as marijuana and beer. Opioids love it when you underestimate them, and they have become the star of their very own epidemic based solely on the public underestimating their danger. Tell the truth about drugs, and the unique differences between them. This allows kids to make informed choices, and leave the propaganda behind.

The Gateway To Nowhere

The common belief that marijuana is a gateway drug is the myth that will not die. It literally makes no sense when you actually think about it. Is it true that many drug addicts smoked weed early on in their lives? Yes, absolutely. But most of them also drank before that, because alcohol is available in most American homes and weed is not. If there is such a thing as a gateway drug, it’s alcohol, not marijuana. Let’s not forget that alcohol is actually drug.

What about harmless medications like ibuprofen and antibiotics and cough syrup? Do these drugs not make us accustomed to using a substance to solve a problem from a very early age? Think about it. When you’re a kid and you’re sick, you parents take you to the doctor and they give you some medicine to make you feel better. This sends the earliest message that drugs are a solution to the problem of feeling sick.

So what happens when you become a teenager and you feel sick, mentally? You don’t fit in, or you’ve got too much on your plate, or you’re bored? Maybe you’ve got a good case of mental illness going on, some early depression or bipolar disorder, like I had. You are feeling unwell, sick, and just plain wrong. Again, your parents might take you to the doctor, who prescribes more medication to make you feel better.

At this point you understand that substances can change the way we feel. So when you start to stumble across different substances, you inherently want to try to use them to change whatever feelings you have that are making you uncomfortable.

The reason alcohol and marijuana are the first illicit drugs kids often try is simply because they are the most readily available and easiest to access. People don’t move on from marijuana because marijuana made them an addict and now they want more. Studies show that only about 9% of marijuana users because addicted to the drug.

The vast majority of marijuana users never move past weed. Qualification is not causation. Saying marijuana is a gateway to heroin is like saying bicycles are a gateway to motorcycle gangs. It’s very likely that every member of a motorcycle gang started by riding a bicycle first, but not every kid who learns to ride a bike becomes a gangster. The same is true with marijuana use. The vast majority of smokers never move on to hard drugs, despite the fact that most hard drug users did use marijuana early on in their addictions.

What causes people to move on from marijuana to harder drugs is the fact that something is still broken and they are trying to fix it. Just like when your doctor gives you a medication, but you’re still feeling sick, they give you something else to try. If I’m still mentally ill, still lost, confused, alone, depressed, and uncomfortable in myself, I might go looking for a stronger medication to fix my problems.

The scary thing now is the prescription pills themselves, particularly painkillers and benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium, are becoming the true “gateway drug”, meaning the first drug someone picks up. They’re in medicine cabinets or mom’s purse. Easier to get than alcohol or marijuana. Much more discreet and simple to hide. Kids are skipping right over marijuana and doing the whole process in reverse. I’ve met heroin addicts who didn’t try marijuana until after they were already addicted to painkillers.

For many years, heroin addicts have used marijuana as a way to treat their addiction. They are often uninsured and cannot afford to be on a Methadone or Suboxone program, or they simply don’t want to use opioids to treat and opioid addiction. So they turn to weed as a drug that works to reduce cravings, relax the mind and body, and fill that gaping hole left by heroin. This has been going on since the beginning of heroin addictions and became popular in the sixties and seventies as an alternative to Methadone treatment. To this day, many Methadone clients still use marijuana to help regulate themselves. I believe as Medical Marijuana gains more of a foothold, it will eventually be used to treat opioid addiction legally. It will exist in medical maintenance programs the same way we treat Methadone and Suboxone today, I guarantee it. When it happens, remember that you heard it here first.

For many people in recovery from heroin addiction, marijuana was not some evil gateway drug, but actually helps to keep them off the hard stuff as they come full circle. Some studies suggest that half of all adults in America have tried weed at least once, and we all know that half of Americans are not drug addicts. If it truly were a gateway drug in the sense that it directly leads to harder drug use, then way more people in this country would be using hard drugs. The vast majority of people who use marijuana whether recreationally or medically are NOT drug addicts, just like the vast majority of people who drink socially are NOT alcoholics.

The question becomes, what do you do if your kid is smoking weed? My suggestion is to treat it the same way you treat drinking. If you don’t think drinking is a big deal, then you shouldn’t think marijuana is a big deal either. If you don’t want your kid drinking underage, then you should discourage them from smoking weed until they’re an adult. While I don’t believe weed will turn your kid into a drug addict, there is some science that illustrates that drinking and smoking weed while the brain is still developing can be harmful. What the true repercussions for that are, we really don’t know. I bet half of you reading this blog right now have smoked weed before and you’re not a drug addict, and it didn’t ruin your life.

We need to keep our concern on opioids, because you don’t need to use weed to become an opioid addict. It’s not like if we stop kids from smoking weed that by default we will stop more serious addictions. It just doesn’t work that way. Marijuana is just a distraction from what is really important, and that is preventing the misuse and over prescribing of prescription painkillers.

If your kid gets a prescription for a narcotic, that’s what you should be worried about. I’ve met countless addicts who got injured playing sports and wound up on pain pills, later becoming addicted.

You may think about locking up your liquor cabinet when your kids are teenagers. That’s all well and good. But if you’re trying to reduce access to harmful drugs in your own home, don’t forget to lock your medicine cabinet, too. The real dangers are in plain sight right next to the Tylenol and you don’t notice because you’re too busy worrying about whether your kid is drinking or smoking weed, two drugs that are the least likely to cause an addiction and that most people use with little to no consequence.

Now for some people, marijuana is a problem, just like alcohol is for alcoholics. That small number of people who are negatively affected by marijuana need help, just like those of us who are addicted to other more dangerous drugs. I’m not trying to say that it’s 100% harmless to everybody and that we all should be lighting up every day.

What I’m saying is, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

Kicking In Custody

If you’ve ever seen an opioid detox, or lived through one, you know how frightening of an experience it is for addicts. We will do anything in our power to avoid going through that withdrawal, including lie, beg, borrow, and steal. The very thought of going through withdrawal sets an addict in motion first thing in the morning, just like someone who gets up and heads to work, they get up and start scheming. Where will the money come from? Do I have some method of getting money that doesn’t hurt anyone but me? Can I sell a treasured heirloom of mine? How about one that belongs to someone else? They’ll understand, right?

The time I feared withdrawal the most was when I got arrested in Waterbury a few years ago. I had taken the bus from my sober house in New Haven and sat the hour long ride into the dirty water. I had to get off and catch another bus to get to my dealer’s spot. You know in rap songs when they talk about the trap house? People love to quote those rhymes. Trust me, a trap house is not a glamorous place and you don’t want to be a trap queen either. The trap queens I’ve met live a dangerous and terrifying life. They take all the risks. The live in squalor. In this particular trap, there’s a broken crib in the kitchen where a baby plays with a cardboard box. It always smells like dirty diapers, because they save them to stash drug trash in so they can throw it out and not worry about it leading back to them.

So I got what I needed and I then walked a few miles to a Home Depot nearby. They have public restrooms that nobody really uses or pays attention to, or so I thought. I had a stress fracture in my foot at the time, and was walking through the snow and ice on it, just making the whole situation worse.

It was during a particular cold spell, and I had on two scarves, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of gloves. This is how badly a person will fight against impending withdrawal.

An another note, my mother had already picked me up and taken me to the Yale Hospital branch in Guilford to have a look at my foot. During registration they asked about allergies, and as was our policy at the time I stated that I was allergic to opiates. As Robert Downey Jr. once said, “They make me break out in handcuffs.” When I eventually see the APRN who is assigned to me, she is short and rude with us from the moment she walks in the room. I immediately know and understand that I’m being profiled, treated as drug seeking, and my very real injury is being ignored.

This is a common occurrence for addicts, whether they are in recovery or not. If someone is using, it doesn’t make their injury or sickness any less real. It still demands the same attention and treatment that a normal person would receive. I wasn’t even looking for pain medication, I never even asked for it. I wanted her to fix my broken foot. Simple as that. She told me it was a sprain, gave me an ace bandage and some crutches and sent us on our way. No x-rays, no imaging of any kind. I was living on the third floor of an old mansion in New Haven that was my sober house. It had been a plantation long ago, and was old and the stairs were steep and narrow. So crutches were not going to help me at all.

So back to Waterbury and the Home Depot. I have my dope, I’m in a bathroom stall, and I am trying to not only get high but medicate the injury that I am aggressively aggravating traipsing around the state on foot in the snow and ice. I guess I overdid it. I passed out. I wake up and about seven Waterbury police officers, all men of course, are standing outside my stall in the Women’s bathroom yelling and pounding on my door. They think they’re so smart and make a big show of searching all my possessions, but since they were so busy shaming me and calling me a junkie they didn’t even find all my drugs or paraphernalia that I had on me. Should have focused on actually doing their jobs, I guess.

They insist on putting me in handcuffs, behind my back, and parade me out through the store like a trophy. Every single person in the store turns to stare at me, mouths gaping, eyes wide. I am a spectacle, just like they want me to be. There are five cruisers out front, and a transport van to bring me to the station. No ambulance, I notice. I guess they didn’t care if I might have needed Narcan or medical attention. No one even asked me if I was okay or needed any help. Their concern was primarily with punishing me as an addict, embarrassing me as much as possible, and belittling me to their little hearts’ content.

I have already been arrested a few times in my life and I know I am running out of get out of jail free cards. I am worried they’re going to hold me for bail. This means I will start to detox in custody, with no medical attention. I have never been more terrified. I am in a cell that is the definition of cold and dark. I have nothing but a metal ledge to sit on and a toilet. I have to ask for toilet paper so I can go to the bathroom while they watch me through the bars. Luckily, after all the years of supervised drug tests, I’m pretty good at peeing in front of strange women. Now I learn how to pee in front of strange men.

Law enforcement may just be doing their jobs in arresting addicts. The cops on the street have little say in what they do and who they choose to arrest. I imagine that any sympathetic cops are likely paired with a hard ass partner, so they are forced to arrest people who they may have been inclined to let go. They don’t make the laws they enforce. I will never be mad at a nice, sympathetic, understanding officer who is just doing their job. I’ve been in trouble before, and that didn’t mean the officers I was dealing with had to treat me like the scum of the earth. They were kind, curious, wanting to know what went wrong for me and encouraged me to get help.

On the other hand, I’ve encountered officers who thrived on my pain and discomfort. The first time I got arrested, the cop’s father worked for my father. He drove the cruiser to my house, with me in the backseat, and made me watch from the driveway as he personally went to the door to notify my father. Not exactly protocol, but he definitely got his rocks off on it. “So your dad is a big boss up in Cheshire, huh?” he says to me as he cuffs me. I didn’t even know at the time that my father was anyone’s boss, let alone this cop’s fathers. For the first time in our then troubled relationship, I actually feel heartbroken for my father and how he will feel walking in to work the next morning. This cop went out of his way to personally embarrass me, and then my completely innocent father. This is what makes it difficult for an addict to have any kind of relationship with the police, even in recovery. I still remember every word this cop said to me, over a decade ago.

The people who determine that we get locked up and incarcerated without medical detox, ultimately, are the lawmakers in our states and in congress. I personally feel that before anyone is allowed to introduce or vote on any drug legislation, that they should have to experience a full blown opiate withdrawal in a jail cell. I guarantee you, if they knew what kind of inhumane practice they were encouraging, every single addict would be administered medication before they even got into holding.

If an addict commits a burglary, or some other violent crime, then yes there should be a criminal punishment for that. It is unfortunate that because of the lack of access to treatment, that addicts are forced to commit these terrible crimes in order to avoid withdrawal.

But why, if an addict is only in possession of drugs for their own private use inside of their own private hell, do we need to put them through our broken criminal justice system?

And for the love of God, why do we need to put their names in the paper and their faces on TV? In case the addict themselves is not sufficiently shamed or embarrassed, let’s make sure to drag their innocent families into the mix. Let’s make sure everyone knows the terrible struggle this person is dealing with. For what purpose? Who does it benefit? Who is helped by knowing that John Doe in Town X was caught in possession of narcotics? How does that make anyone’s day better? It doesn’t. This antiquated practice should be done away with immediately, and I will fight for this until the day I die. So now a person has been forced to withdraw cold turkey in a jail cell and on top of all that, be publicly dragged through the mud all because they have a disease.

On that night in Waterbury, they continue to screw me. I start to wish they would keep me overnight so I’d already be in town to pick up first thing in the morning, if they let me out at all. I’m still terrified they’re going to demand a bond and I’m pretty sure my mother wouldn’t pay it at this point. They decide to wait until all the buses stop running for the night and set me free.

I have to call a friend in Florida and ask for her to give me her credit card number so I can charge a taxi all the way back to New Haven. It costs about a hundred dollars. I promise to pay her back. Of course, I never do. I arrive back at the sober house in my cab and act like nothing happened. Just like after my overdose. I just bury it all and deal with it on my own.

I wind up taking a bus to court for my first appearance, before my mother inevitably finds out what happened and drives me going forward. The prosecutor tries to offer me a suspended sentence, leaving me with a felony on my record, for the nonviolent, victim-less crime of possessing drugs. Luckily, I’ve done my research and I know there is a program available to me because of my mental health history. I ask him about it and he says no. So now I have to get a public defender.

The preferential treatment I receive from the judge becomes customary to me. White girl, in a suit, people mistake me for a lawyer rather than a broke addict with a public defender. I am back in sobriety at this point, enrolled in treatment, and I know for sure I’ll be walking out of there with community service. I watch the black and Hispanic drug offenders get clacked into handcuffs before me. I watch the poor people of every race get harsher punishments, more community service, bigger fines, less chances. This has become routine for me as it is now my fourth arrest, and by default I’ve been in the courtroom more than my fair share of times.

I know if I was not who I am, not privileged, that I would’ve needed to be bailed out in Waterbury. Sure, they embarrassed me, belittled me, made me cry, and called me names. Sure they let me out into the streets of Waterbury in the middle of the night with no way home. But in the world of addiction, with opioid withdrawal as a consequence, they still did me a favor. They made sure that I wouldn’t be going through detox in a cell. Forget about medication, you don’t even have the comfort of a bed for your incredibly sore muscles. You don’t have a shower to sit in, where you can flash the water from cold to hot to try and soothe the erratic temperature shifts. You don’t have a basin to throw up in, so you’re crawling to the metal toilet on the cold concrete. You don’t have anyone to take your blood pressure, in case you’re someone with a pre-existing condition who is susceptible to actually dying from withdrawal. I cannot imagine a more painful and unpleasant experience.

I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, except lawmakers and police. I think that collectively, if the people who determine when non-violent drug offenders are going to detox in jail knew what they were signing someone up for, things would change very fast.

We would see laws that protect addicts, rather than demonize them. We would see tax dollars dedicated to building treatment facilities, not prisons. But things are changing, believe it or not. If you’re new to the world of addiction, things probably seem pretty bleak to you. Just thank your lucky stars you weren’t dealing with this ten years ago. There are resources out there now, and people like myself, who make themselves available to shorten your learning curve and minimize your pain. You are spoiled with resources and you don’t even know it. So please, ask for help. You deserve it.

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

DISCLAIMER: This is not intended to be an attack on police officers. There are many honest, caring officers out there who risk their lives every day doing their job. I commend any man or woman who goes to work each day to serve and protect their community. This blog reflects my personal experience with the criminal justice system as a whole, including the officers I’ve encountered in that process. If the shoe fits, then wear it. If it doesn’t, then it doesn’t apply to you or your loved one in law enforcement.