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A heroin haven or lifesaving longue?
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Drugs are a problem in our community.
It’s not all of that provocative of a statement, because depending on how deeply you look, drugs are a problem in every community.
It’s also not a secret that people don’t steal copper wire from railroad crossing arms because they’re planning on putting that money into a retirement fund.
So, in short, drugs create quality of life issues for the people within the communities where their rampant use creates an environment that is less than desirable.
I think that all of those things would be agreed upon by a large majority of people in the community who are asked for their feelings on the topic – the people who have to deal with the broken windows and the broken doors and the ransacked garages. The people who find the used needles on playgrounds and in parks. The people who just want to get through the day without incident.
But when it comes to how to deal with that problem the divisiveness couldn’t be any more pronounced.
This week Stockton Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman proposed a bill that would allow certain counties with the state – San Joaquin being one of them – the chance to launch pilot programs that would essentially create safe injection sites for intravenous drug users, coupling outreach and needle exchange with a supervised medical facility staffed by somebody that is trained to deliver the lifesaving drug Naloxone in the event of an overdose.
I know, I know. It sounds extreme.
Until you really start to think about it.
Some people on Facebook – the last bastion of true unbridled political thought in this country – think that it’s a horrendous waste of taxpayer dollars and those who are addicted to drugs like heroin should just “die” because they aren’t helping society in any way, shape or form.
The only problem with that argument is that none of us are God – that’s a given – and Eggman’s proposal doesn’t mention anything about taxpayers funding anything having to do with this.
In fact, the language in what was released is so devoid of specifics that it’s easy to see why people are up in arms – they’re filling in all of the blanks with all of their worst-case scenarios even though simple logic states that there’s no realm where these issues could be a possibility.
My personal favorite? “They’re going to be providing drugs! They’re going to be furnishing drugs to these junkies!”
I could go on-and-on with all of the alarmist, tin-hat conspiracy theories that are floating around about this – “well it doesn’t say that it’s not going to do that” – but let’s clarify a few things about what the bill will do, and why something on this front needs to be done.
First, there is an opioid epidemic in America. This is an undisputable fact. People are introduced to powerful opiate painkillers to treat problems that don’t require them, and before they know it they’ve developed a dependency on the pills simply to function properly.
This right here is the fork in the road.
Some people are wired to simply brave the withdrawal symptoms – the fogginess, the shakiness, the nausea, the diarrhea – and come out on the other side 72-hours later like nothing ever happened. Others quickly learn that they’ll do absolutely anything in their power not to feel like that. Ever.
And, like any drug (including coffee) the more one uses it, the more it takes to get the same effect and the month-long supply of pills only lasts three weeks. And then two. And then one.
When they’re out, that’s when people turn to the street for whatever they can get their hands on to take that edge away. That’s when they turn to heroin.
Now, if I were to tell you to think about what a heroin addict looks like, a very distinct image probably flashes into your mind. Skinny, dirty long-haired “freaks” with track marks and a perpetually glazed look in their eyes. But this issue affects everybody. Teachers. Politicians. Laywers. Doctors. Politicians. And yes, even those in poverty.
And what those making unfounded claims on Facebook don’t understand is that these people are going to do whatever they have to do in order to get high. It’s already the one of the most stigmatized illnesses in modern society – opiate addicts are more likely than other people to see negative expressions in photographs and videos when they’re actually showing the opposite because those are the looks that they’re used to seeing on the faces of their family and friends and the strangers they come across – and that often turns these people towards dank shooting galleries or semi-private public spaces where they can do what they need to do out of the prying judgmental eyes of the public.
It’s going to happen regardless. What’s better – somebody shooting up in a slide in a community park because it offers brief cover, or somebody doing so in a medically supervised environment where their needle will be properly disposed of and they can pick-up a clean one to help stop the spread of infectious diseases?
I guess where one somebody falls on the criminal justice spectrum plays a large part in how this problem is dealt with, but considering that for every $1 that a safe injection site spends in their budget they end up saving $2.33 that would be spent on other services – EMS, hospital, police – tis seems like a win-win for all involved, including the taxpayers who are worried their money is being wasted.
No, Susan Talamantes Eggman is not trying to establish facilities where heroin is provided free of charge to junkies.
She’s just setting the framework to allow California to experiment with something that has proved to be beneficial in both Canada and Europe. It is something that will save lives, cut down on diseases and improve the quality of life for the people who often have to deal with the ugly side effects of drug addiction.
If you take judgement and moral indignation out of the equation and look at these people as human beings, I think it’s far easier to see the benefits.
Here’s to hoping that enough people allow themselves to do that.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.