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Kehler Counseling Blog

How to Get Heroin Out of Your Community

Is your home, neighborhood, town, borough, county or state dealing with the surge or epidemic of heroin addiction?  
I doubt your answer is 'no'. 
We're all seeing it, hearing about it, experiencing it or have dealt with the collateral damages of it.  
I've been hearing about it directly from the addicts themselves, their mothers and fathers, their siblings, peers, professionals along with reading anything I had time to read.   I recently got a chance to read Chasing the Scream  about how the USA "Drug War" got started by British author, Johann Hari.  It was eye opening and insightful about where we went wrong and what we can do right to shift away away from criminalizing addiction and start improving our quality of life than supports healthy choices.  The following suggestions come from the these various sources - hopefully they will encourage better decisions by not just individual households but those in charge of major decisions with our communities.    It is time to start doing something constructive rather than just complaining about it. 

  • Get those using drug paraphernalia and dumping it or littering it in public places to create a 'clean up' squad.    For those finding syringes, baggies, containers, cigarette butts, or drug use items in public places - it is dangerous to the innocent and just downright ugly to discover it.    Those using aren't always 'evil' - they just don't know what to do with the remains - so they leave it behind - why not encourage them to take care of cleaning up their spaces so that the rest of us can enjoy them safely?   We do this for dog owners - why not create safe deposit places for their waste too?    This could be done as discipline or community service by those with citations or as a public safety initiative - where funding is allocated to pay for proper medical waste dispensers - even just one in a community - could make the difference - where syringes were properly discarded.     Word does get around with addicts - having a safe place to dispose of their 'gear' would mean that they wouldn't have to bring it into their homes, schools, places of employment or public spaces to leave behind.  
  • Encourage drug abusers to attend community meetings regarding drug issues.  The 'front line' often has more answers than they get credit for.   Give them an opportunity to be part of the solution rather than criminalizing from the start.   It was doing it this way that lead to them participating in keeping parks and public spaces freed from their drug gear.   When we're distant from the daily grind we often are ignorant to what needs to be fixed. 
  • Treat drug abusers as humans with rights - in some communities more action is taken to help animals than people.  Are we funding 'dog parks' but not safe parks and how do we make them enjoyable for all?    Even those abusing drugs often don't stand up for their own rights, further discouraging them from fighting for a quality of life they can be proud of.  Shame maintains addictive behavior.   If they shift to being proud of themselves for healthy choices imagine how our communities could change.  
  • Drama is often needed to wake a community up.   Signs, symbols, ceremonies, and rallies are visuals to help them see and notice the number.   Putting out crosses, flags, banners and memorials begin to give real evidence to the destruction.    Having specific representation, one person, one story at a time bring importance to the issue.   Having too many nameless too often overwhelms the audience -paralyzing from action.  "Skook Recovers" Facebook site is doing just that - I hope it continues! 
  • Ghandi believed that you had to make death "visible" before action would take place.   The public needs to see faces, numbers, and yes names, to understand the significant loss.    Again, each overdose is a loved one of someone who has a mother, father, sister, brother, friend who now has to move forward without them.  
  • Yes, even drug users, dealers and professionals need to visualize the reality of this epidemic.   We have lost count, or too busy counting and looking at numbers instead of faces.  Staying in the logical, money counting world of drug use,dealing or treatment, doesn't allow for the understanding that the loss of life of each person means a mother, father, sister, brother, child, teacher, boss or friend is grieving a relationship and a part of their own history.    Grieving is often the reason many start using illegal drugs.  
  • Expose the costs of addiction.   Start reporting on the costs of crime, surveillance, court hearings, transportation, medical help, counseling, incarceration, lost productivity, insurances, fees, fines, child care, poor credit, urine testing, rehab, and priceless other opportunities missed.  Taxpayers, funding sources and the community need to know that not doing anything also costs 
  • Allow heroin and illegal substance abusers to be heard in decision making.  They may have the best solutions not considered.   Create a safe way for them to be heard.   Increased understanding can improve the quality of the solutions. Fear of constant punishment fuels poor choices.  
  • Changing how the addicted think of themselves can change everything.   Continued and reinforced shame through rejection, incarceration, and public condemnation will keep them 'sick' - when they improve in their own valuing of themselves - like everyone - they will shift to better decisions regarding their future.  Keeping them isolated, hostile, shame-filled and anxiety ridden will also paralyze them from making better decisions that impact entire communities.   Success in countries that experimented with legal clinics for drug supplies discovered that once the 'lifestyle' of addiction was no longer required, they had time and ability to create a meaningful, purpose filled life that was much more satisfying long term than a hourly fix.  We need to consider the advantages of doing the same.  Prisons aren't working to reduce illegal drug use or we wouldn't have the epidemic to talk about.  
  • Declare addiction a Health or Medical Emergency to garner funding from government sources - shift from punitive measures to health related actions. 
  • Educate the public about Medical treatments for Opioid & Heroin addiction - have forums to introduce education about it to the community. Address all ages. Teach rather than lecture.  Education about what to do, how to secure resources and improving access to efficient and coordinated help is paramount.    Support physicians and their facilities to keep it available and accessible.   Get feedback from those using it as well as those who aren't to deal with real barriers. 
  • Create more ways that the complex levels of intervention can work together.  Start with easy referrals, more communication, increased collaboration between not just the medical teams but also agencies and organizations managing the other important needs: housing, food, education, 12 Step meetings, mental health medications and counseling, co-occurring mental and medical health issues.   
  • Create more ways to address pain management and consider barriers to improve access.   Work with physicians to offer alternatives to drugs to manage pain including non-traditional methods.   
  • Address the role of anxiety, depression and grieving in the solutions.   Did the drug abuse start as a way to self- medicate?  Is it really an anxiety diagnosis that no one identified?   Is it clinical depression that needs to be properly medicated?  What is the role of significant loss in the person's life?  Has the loss been properly supported and managed?    The number of sudden deaths in this epidemic is significant - for those with loss the death(s) are often the first experience - how well supported were those dealing with the loss supported? understood? validated?   I personally have found this is the #1 reason for failed attempts at recovery- losses and guilt were never managed. 
  • and finally, consider what providing a safe, supervised, professional place for receiving appropriate dosing would mean to your community.   I know it sounds completely 'insane' to consider it - but the costs of disabling medical damages from fillers, infections from used needles, abscesses from toxic mixes or improper injections, the crimes committed to obtain money for a fix, the manipulation and lying that is needed to support getting the next fix and discovering a loved one overdosed or dealing with the horrific symptoms of withdrawal,  having access to a legal supply in a safe place would not just save lives but communities when you consider all that is involved.    I know I thought it was crazy to consider too - but read the details - it is a more rational idea than many want to understand.      

Just like all the other battles our country has had to face - once we got serious -we did make positive changes.  We can do it.  We can't ignore it, deny it or 'hope' it away - we need to take a stand, ask questions, commit to solutions and speak up.  Let your voices be heard - all of them - start listening to those experiencing it.  They are the experts who know the real obstacles.  Let's help get over and past as many as we can!   It could a loved one of yours we lose next. 

Karen L Kehler MA 

2 Comments to How to Get Heroin Out of Your Community :

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Wendy on Monday, April 11, 2016 9:10 PM
I know some of these ideas seem drastic, but we need drastic measures. Our health care and legal system is failing and by staying on the course we are only making the dealers rich and killing more kids. Decriminalization and regulation is a first step. Then treatment.
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hard ware on Saturday, February 03, 2018 12:49 PM
I know some of these ideas seem drastic, but we need drastic measures. Our health care and legal system is failing and by staying on the course we are only making the dealers rich and killing more kids. Decriminalization and regulation is a first step. Then treatment.
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