The part of me that understands service is the backbone of my recovery, demands something other than pretending that there aren’t options available to people still suffering.  

So last night I’m at a town hall event on drug addiction and someone mentions safe injection sites in the audience. My heart begins to pound from having my hand up and hoping to get called on, so I can ask about this, among other topics.  

The panel looks around at each other trying to see who will bite first, as it’s clearly a controversial topic. Finally, the one “token recovery guy” speaks up, “You know, studies are positive, but people are very opposed to the idea, and the last time we had a discussion about it a fight nearly broke out.”

And so, I wanted to get up. And I wanted to have that fight.  

But I was taught to cease fighting anything and anyone. What about fighting substance use disorder? I thought my disease was doing pushups? Certainly, this disease is wreaking havoc across our country, especially with the younger generations, and what are we, as a community, prepared to do about it?  

Who is fighting on the front lines? While communities claim “not in my backyard” absolution, so do the “anonymous people” who are in recovery in this country. They are told to have no opinion on outside issues. But, to me, this isn’t an outside issue, because the part of me that understands service is the backbone of my recovery, demands something other than pretending that there aren’t options available to people still suffering.  

Thankfully, I have met many who are rank and file generals in this fight, however compared to the #’s we could have, it is disappointing, and makes creating change in our communities even more difficult.  

Clearly, safe injection options are not a solution, but saying “he or she must not have wanted it enough” when they drop out of the only pathway we are offering, which for mainstream recovery is a 12-step program, is an even less valid answer.  

12-step can be successful, alongside other treatment modalities, but it is often seen as “the” solution and not “a” solution.

And what about statistics? Research shows that overdose rates decrease around the area of the safe injection site. If this statistic alone isn’t a good enough reason to support them how about that the rate of people who were entering treatment in those areas increased? 

Look, don’t get me wrong, I was once on the other side of this conversation. I had a lot of misguided beliefs before I entered recovery. I once thought when I was 16 and my drinking career had just begun, that if I could get my dad to give me driving lessons while I was drinking, I wouldn’t have a drinking and driving problem!

Clearly being open-minded that my own thinking could be wrong is an important aspect of recovery, and so while I was made to think I should be open-minded about the program, I was indoctrinated to believe recovery was a static black-and-white thing, and that I was a miracle because I didn’t use, and while this may be true, it also underlined another assumption, that those who didn’t make it were not entitled to these miracles.  

The idea that there is a level of participation required for someone to enter recovery is not lost on me, but the fact of the matter is, more and more people, especially those from the younger generations, are struggling to find their way in recovery and our answer to the staggering overdose and relapse rates is “they must not have been ready.”  

So now what? What do we do with people who aren’t ready? Tell them to go out and give their substances another try? Drugs which could easily kill them in one shot? In my mind, if someone is not ready for abstinence-based recovery it isn’t that they have failed, it’s that they may not have reached that point yet, they may never reach that point, and who are we to say what that should look like.  

There are many people who reach a significant “bottom,” only to find themselves using again. Can anyone say, who is honest with themselves, that a “bottom” is what creates recovery? Surely it can help, but there are many who hit that point and beyond, and for those people, while their lives continue to crumble around them, what is available?

To me, this is why we need to offer as many solutions to this problem as we can. Not offering alternative methods like safe injection sites, or medically assisted treatment, is like saying to someone who has diabetes they can’t go to the hospital for support, or shouldn’t have to take insulin, they should just use their higher power, and if they can’t clearly, they don’t want to be healthy enough.

Change is possible without necessarily being at a point of relying on grace only. While I believe in grace and have my own stance on faith, I believe this “coveted” winners circle of recovery is an issue and is not saving lives, especially amongst young people.

Do I believe willingness is an important key to recovery? Certainly, yet how many of us become willing along our path of using? So why would we not want to create opportunities for the people who are using, to not only stay alive, but be near recovery support services?  

When someone has a reoccurrence of use, do we no longer consider them in recovery? Therefore, by that logic, anyone who is in active use has the potential to effect this same change in their lives. Hospitals, fire houses, police stations, med express, anywhere, anytime someone wants out of the cycle, it should be as easy as getting a flu shot. It is that easy to get high or drunk.

Finding drugs is way easier than finding recovery, unfortunately, we don’t seem to be making much headway on that stat. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get help, and yet it is. Clearly, we have quite a way to go, and so while we stand at the frontlines arguing for much-needed treatment options, housing options, peer support options for people in early recovery, we need to also keep our eye on how we can affect those who haven’t gotten to that point yet.    

So, I didn’t get up and fight at the town hall meeting, because I know that the only way change will be affected is if compassion and reason win over misunderstanding and hatred. The only way we can win, and by we, I mean the parents who lost children to overdoses, and by we, I mean the advocates who mentor peers who end up overdosed in alley ways, and never make it home to their families, is if we can convince society that shaming people is not working and giving them opportunities for change are the best ideas we have currently.   

I understand clearly that this option is seen as enabling to some. That we are encouraging people to use by providing needles and a safe place to go. The concept is not lost on me, but current models are not working. Prevention talks often fall on deaf ears, and while it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try to reach people, it does mean we need to get real about whether we are doing all we can do to help prevent overdose deaths in this country. 

If someone who is opposed has a better idea of how we can get the people in our communities, who are using illicit substances, out of the shadows and into the light where we can see them and help them, please by all means share it.  

To me the big bad wolf in this situation is that we would have to admit as a community, that people in our community, have heroin problems. We don’t like to admit that, and unfortunately it’s killing people.  

I would argue that whatever motives you have for being opposed to this option, check them against the idea that centralizing use as best as possible helps to a.) measure your community and its needs, b.) provide safety and support to a vulnerable part of the population c.) encourage the next step for people to move on with their lives and d.) minimize the risk to police and health care workers responding to overdoses.  

One of these reasons alone in my mind is enough to at least give it a try. Saving just one life means so much, especially if it is your child, your brother, your sister or your parent. Sharing this pain with too many people in too short of a time period is how I came to believe in safe Injection sites. 

Erik Beresnoy is a father, advocate, and a writer on topics that range from recovery, and spirituality to music and philosophy.  Erik has been an active member of the recovery movement since 2008, when he himself entered recovery, and began to not only repair his life but to also seek help repair his community by working to implement new strategies. His current projects include Empowerment Coaching for the Ammon Foundation, and implementing a transformational program in NYC called Dare to Dream for Synergy Education. He is a certified recovery coach as well as a board member for Rockland Recovery Homes. His other works can be viewed at soberspiritmeditation.com.

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