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As I come to know these fine people, they share with me more of their personal and sensitive stories. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist. "Blog names" have occasionally been given to me by the person whose story I am telling. Names are never their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.


Thursday, September 5, 2019

Until that time when we as a nation have evolved to accepting Substance Use Disorder patients as patients and not as outcasts, we must open Safe Injection Sites/Overdose Prevention Sites NOW!


As I sit here in my suburban apartment, I am very aware that many of my Philadelphia friends are gathering at the Federal Courthouse to make their voices heard in regard to the issue of Safe Injection Sites also known as Overdose Prevention Sites.  My work schedule today doesn't allow me to be there so I thought I'd share a few thoughts from home…

Grassroots versions of Safe Injection Sites and Overdose Prevention Sites have existed for years and probably decades and dare I say it, the two and a half centuries, of our nation's history.  Let's look at the "years" portion of this issue.

Years ago, our nation's sons and daughters gathered in "The Tracks" to inject their 'medicine.'  It wasn't a perfect system by any means.  In the range of three years ago, The Tracks were closed by the city of Philadelphia and the residents moved to other locations.  Many of these daughters and sons of our nation created new communities under four Conrail overpasses along Lehigh Avenue.  "Emerald City" was the name given to the largest of these four communities.[1] 

Emerald City and Narcan started gaining attention at roughly the same time.  During the height of Emerald City's existence, 80 to 100 people lived there under one of the four bridges.[2]  Narcan was being distributed as much as possible to the residents.  The end result was an incredible lack of deaths by overdose. 

That does not mean there weren't any overdoses.  It does mean that nearly all of the people who were in a dangerous overdose situation and on death's door were witnessed as such by other residents of the community.  Narcan was administered by fellow residents to these people along with resuscitative efforts which occasionally included CPR.  I witnessed five such events during my visits to Emerald City.  Of those five nearly dead people, ALL were saved by residents of the community: homeless Substance Use Disorder patients in full addiction.[3]

How did these saves by homeless patients of Substance Use Disorder happen?  The answer is simple and controversial:  Street Level Community!

By allowing our nation's homeless Substance Use Disorder patients to gather in community - under bridges or along sidewalks - lives are saved.  They come to know each other.  They look out for each other and they save each other.  They become each other's actual first responder in a moment of death or life crisis.  They give that almost dead human being an opportunity to choose recovery from the addicted phase of their officially recognized disease.  They prevent a set of parents from the agony of burying their child.  They reduce the number of orphans left behind and traumatized for life.

But these are human beings!  No one should live under a bridge or on a public sidewalk[4] due to having an officially recognized disease that society doesn't understand.  While it would make far more sense to treat patients of Substance Use Disorder as patients of their disease and not as societal outcasts, our current culture does not seem to be at that point of opening our hospital doors and inviting these intelligent people - most of whom are reliant on Medicaid - in so as to receive the treatment that they deserve.

What's the next best option? 

Since open injecting and bleeding from those injection sites and "dipping" and urinating and defecating in public are truly not a pleasant sight for anyone to observe, the next best option is to create officially recognized and sanctioned Safe Injection Sites/Overdose Prevention Sites where our nation's residents can inject their 'medicine' that their bodies demand.  In so doing they will be exposed to professionals who can keep them safe as they do so.  These professionals can also guide these medical patients of Substance Use Disorder into services that have the potential to reunite them with their parents and children somewhere down their path of healing. 

Are Overdose Prevention Sites 
THE ULTIMATE ANSWER 
to this horrific issue facing our nation?  

No!  The ultimate answer would be to create a climate and culture that plows down all of the barriers that are preventing these patients from getting the care they need and doing so in an environment that recognizes their humanity.  

Until that time when we as a nation have evolved to accepting Substance Use Disorder patients as patients and not as outcasts, we must open Safe Injection Sites/Overdose Prevention Sites NOW!

Until these sites are open, we must recognize that street communities of Substance Use Disorder patients are in actual reality grassroots Safer Injection Sites/Overdose Prevention Sites and very much along the lines of hospital wards where the patients of the disease are also the medical overseers of the same.
The Last Stop's Sidewalk as a Hospital Ward


The Intersection of Kensington and Somerset as a Hospital Ward
 
Streets Outside Prevention Point as a Hospital Ward
Street In Front of the Kensington StoreFront as a Hospital Ward



[1] It was called this because it was at the corner of Lehigh Avenue and Emerald Street.
[2] The total number of people under all four bridges was thought to be in the range of 300.
[3] Three of those five were saved by the same woman whose latest save count is pushing one hundred and fifty as of last week.
[4] Neither of which provides bathroom facilities.

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