Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Video of my talk at the Life Ring Conference

You can find it here

Dr Oz appearance July 5th!

Please tune in July 5th to see me for my long awaited appearance on Dr Oz. It is unusual for a junkie like myself to get a national platform like this. I hope it will help others understand addiction.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Tore Back

"That bitch is tore back," he told me. He pointed to Cherri across the street.
"Tore back?" I asked him.
"Yeah," he told me "I forgot you are from fucking OHIO. What is in Ohio...anyway..." he points again.

Cherri was sitting at the doughnut shop at 7th and Market, in front of what must have been a cup of coffee at one time. There was a brown substance slowly dripping off the table under the booth where it reached a pool of empty sugar packets and her shoe. Her pantyhose were black and torn. Her knees were white, red, and scabby. I could instantly see why. With one hand she propped up her sagging head, with the other she was gingerly scratching the living hell out of that knee. I would have though she was dead if it wasn't for the occasional bob of the head which lead to a twitch then a scratch. Her purse was laid out all over the booth along with the contents of her backpack. The coffee shop would let you sit in the booths for one hour if you ordered something. The big corner windows were a prime spot for people watching. In this case, the people were looking inside at Cherri. The tourists walked by pointing while they smiled and laughed.

"Should we go help.."
As he handed me the 40oz Max interjected "that bitch gives Junkies a bad name!"
OK, I guess we won't be helping then
Max and I were both killing time until we could pick up our food stamps. Our workers told us the cards should work at one o'clock. It was 12:30. I had never been on food stamps before. I had been broke, especially when I lived in Minnesota, but they had made you work for food boxes. Four hours in a warehouse for a box filled with broccoli, the government cheese, cans that said "PORK", beans, cereal, and some pasta. I was working then but with a boyfriend in jail there was little money left over. He needed things- right?! I laughed to myself as I took a drink of my beer. Within a few weeks of getting out, he was fucking my best friend. I guess he needed LOTS of things.

"How did you end up here, Tracey?" Max was making the kind of small talk junkies make in between highs. I don't know if I was even a junkie yet. I could go a few days or even a week in between my next high but that vice was getting tighter around my next.

"Drugs," I told him "I came here because of drugs."
This was only half true. I came here for lots of reasons but the drugs made it impossible to leave. Heroin was the only thing that consistently made me happy anymore. Not sex, not food, not traveling, not my family, not myself. I left a job and apartment to come here. Now I was living in abandoned buildings and dirty hotel rooms wondering how in the fuck did I ever get here. I know I could easily fuck Max if I wanted to or even if I didn't want to. He would buy me dope until we had some sort of failing out over something petty. Or maybe it would be the other way around. He would hold me against his chest. I would think I was in love for a few moments. I would support our habits until some stripper came along with a bunch of money and a place to live. But neither would happen. Not today.

"I am going to go help Cherri" I told him as I passed him back his beer. I pushed myself up. I gave him a backwards wave as I started walking away.

He gave me a confused look "But I thought we were calling Flacco together?!" I couldn't really here him. I was tuning him out. Ya, we can meet up later. Got it. Maybe Cherri wants to go in with us too. Okay, I will ask her. Hos before bros right? whatever.

As I walked into the doughnut shop, Cherri opened up her eyes long enough to smile at me. She remembered me. I knew her. We had sat up tweaking one night starring up at the stars. She knew all the constellations by heart. As she showed me the belt of Orion, she told me to be careful around here. She had woken up one night in the alley behind the doughnut shop. Her pants had been cut open, There was a used condom hanging partially outside of her. He raped me but used a condom, she laughed to herself. I think it kept her from crying.  WHAT a gentleman. She told me. I already knew though. I already had heard this story from at least five other people. Except it was somehow "her fault" because she was a drug user.

"Maybe I can show you the stars again," she told me as I helped her pick up her backpack. I handed her a napkin of the table to wipe up her mascara. I could see she had been crying. And you know- hos before bros.

"Girls like us Tracey," Cherri told me "we gotta look out for each other."

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Big Fix- Hope After Heroin

If you enjoy my blog, I hope you will consider buying my book here or here or from an Indy bookstore.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Blog About Recovery from Eating Disorders

I came across this blog that one of my young relatives is writing about her recovery from eating disorders. I really was impressed that someone in their teens could not only have insight to their condition, but be able to put feelings into words. I thought some people who visit here might relate.

A junkie travels outside her comfort zone.

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. I took some mixed family/work trips that both commenced in spending time near the water. I'm from Ohio originally. I grew up in the 70's when our bodies of water were contaminated with toxic sludge. My parents would encourage us to go outside, mainly to get out of their hair, and come back when the street lights came on. Kids would leave their homes after sucking down whatever sugary breakfast cereal was available, wash it down with some tang or juicey juice, then head out for adventure.

I was in the third our fourth grade when I would climb into construction sites, only to find a few stashed penthouse magazines and a few Budweiser's. None of the stuff made any sense to me. In my entire life, I never heard my parents have sex and barely ever saw them kiss each other. My mother started sleeping on the couch downstairs when I was 12 so I grew up assuming us kids were created through some type of spontaneous combustion. I never learned about healthy relationships because I never really saw one. Occasionally, I would get locked out of the house. I would have to sit at the neighbors until my mom came home. I would see how things ran between those couples and wonder why were we such freaks. I generally only saw adults together at social functions where brown beverages were involved that made the mothers louder and the fathers more involved in sporting events. Children were to be seen, but not heard, with the exception of fetching some "uncle" or friend another drink.

In contrast, my children are rarely around adults with the exception of their parents. There are no sprawling yards I can use to release them back into the wild. The closest playground, a few houses over, doubles as an area where homebums use the playstructure to sleep it off or teenagers sit huddled together on the picnic table. While she is smoking weed, he squeezes farther and farther up her thigh in endless frustration as places to go are limited for lovers in this congested area. They leave 20 minutes later. She gets her buzz, he gets some blue balls. I suppose they are both moderately satisfied yet my children have to wait for this to play out while they dodge getting broken glass and tan bark in their crocs. Having a life of carefree play involves planning. So we take them away, watch them on the sands of a different city and pray for the future to be free of the addictions that have plagued our own families.

I went on a boat Friday. I have been in a row boat, a bass boat, a whale watching tour, but this was my first time out on a sail boat. The time out on the open ocean makes me realize how there is so much more to life than what you can find in the bottom of a spoon. The world wasn't measured in grams, it was measured in our distance to land. The sea creatures looked at me with their scratches and shark bites as to say "get over yourself. You think YOU have it rough. This is where I live..." The ocean gives me perspective. Grab ahold of something you love besides drugs. There is so much to see out there. I am not asking you to quit, just look around.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The State of Harm Reduction in the South

“The south is intertwined with backward policies about drug use and people from those areas who use drugs especially IV drugs will suffer the consequences because of ignorant politicians and policy makers who think jesus christ will save them from humanities ailments.”

As the “Opioid Crisis” reaches a fever pitch across the United States, there are frequent reminders that no person or areas are immune to its deadly grasp. This includes sleepy Southern States that were previously known  more for rolling hills than pill mills, that is unless you speak with the residents. The dirty little secret of rampant opioid use is now impossible to sweep under the rug. The South is now the epicenter of a public health crisis. Opioid overdose is now the leading cause of preventable death in the United State. West Virginia and Kentucky both make the list of the top five states of deaths per 100,000 residents. Both the rise of Oxycontin, and the increased distribution of heroin into the sleepy centers of every major city has left leaders scrambling to tackle issues that were previously swept under the rug.
The failed “War on Drugs” has pushed society in a place where common sense drug policies were ignored in favor of punitive criminal justice “interventions”. Experts agree that substance use and abuse are a medical issue, not some type of moral failing. There are complex mental health components that influence decision making as well as a physiological cravings that occur as a direct result of repeated ingestion of these substances. Opioids are called “painkillers” for a reason. Not only can they relieve physical pain, their intense feeling of euphoria has been known to alleviate emotional pain as well. It is no surprise that many people that start out taking opioids whether prescribed or recreationally, go on to develop a dependence to them.
“I was picking up yesterday from two teenagers. When we finally got the goods, one of them asked the other for a rig (syringe). What he handed from the backseat was appalling. The needle was practically rounded off, and it was covered in blood. I passed both of them a 10 pack of fresh rigs (syringes) . Couldn't bear to see that happen.” (Texas)
Drug use has been part of the fabric of human history for thousands of years, yet in past decade, experimentation has turned into dependence and death. In the past few years,  clusters of a community can be wiped out in a matter of hours when the powerful opioid fentanyl is added into pressed into copy-cat pills or used to spike the rush of a bag of heroin. Unknowingly ingesting this drug can overpower the system quickly leading to a fatal overdose. Rates of HIV in sections of the country such as Miami have actually increased. The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) kills more Americans than 60 other infectious diseases combined, including HIV and yet this condition has been widely ignored by health professionals. In a recent switch, there has been building momentum around a movement known as “harm reduction”.
Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. The idea is that harm reduction provides education and tools to users of both legal and illegal drugs to improve their health and allow them to make positive, well informed choices. Until recently, harm reduction has been in direct conflict with the prevailing idea that users need to be locked up as a solution for both society and their poor choices. Southern states have traditionally outright banned harm reduction efforts including laws on the books that outlaw programs such as needle exchanges. Possession of an unused syringe without a prescription can lead to a criminal case. Not just for the people that use the services but also for the workers. Conner Adams from the Steady Collective in Western North Carolina explained most exchanges in North Carolina live with some fear - because it is a Class 1 misdemeanor per syringe for someone over 18 and a Class 1 felony if the person is under 18.” In other words, any employee or volunteer can conceivably be charged for each exchanged syringe. The partnership between harm reduction agencies and public health officials is precarious at best, as these efforts are seen by some as “enabling” drug users. Yet advocates are setting up shop in even the deepest regions of the Bible Belt as locals search for solutions to the deaths of loved ones.
For those seeking assistance beyond the freely available 12 step or religious programming, the situation can be quite depressing. Private clinics that offer opioid replacement therapies such as methadone or suboxone can be both expensive and few and far between. Naloxone, the opioid overdose antidote, has been limited to hospitals. For those seeking education on HIV or Hepatitis C, the era of abstinence only education has created a culture of ignorance. The stigma of being an active drug user creates an insulated culture of isolation that drives users away from doctors and into relying on “junkie folklore” to resolve many common drug related health issues.
As a former heroin user who spent a year living in the South, I have been very interested in how the opioid “epidemic” has impacted various states. Rather than look on my computer to rehash new stories, I asked users to send in first hand accounts from their areas.
Tennessean here. Heroin has just exploded around here in the past couple years; before that, it was relatively rare. And from what I'm told, it used to be all tar, now I've seen plenty of powder as well. Some powder is cut with fentanyl, and some fake pills have floated around too, but overall the fent issue doesn't seem to be as severe here as in the northeast. Meth, crack, and painkillers dominated before then, and still do in some places. There's still a lot of opiate pills along with all the smack, though I'm sure the feds will start really cracking down on physicians eventually, whether or not they're actually doing anything wrong....
Thankfully needles and syringes can be purchased at pharmacies, but it's at the pharmacist's discretion, so some people might end up left high and dry. It's a shame. The state of harm reduction around here is rough, whether rural or urban. Absolutely no needle exchanges, hell, they're actually illegal in this state. They're considered paraphernalia, fresh or used. Though thankfully our neighbor to the north got some sense and started some. I know one dude who drives around giving people clean rigs, cookers, etc. and takes donations. I've seen houses where people had literal piles of used rigs on the floor, or grocery bags full. "I just give it a rinse of water before I use it again," ugh. Hep C rates have skyrocketed, for obvious reasons.
We do have naloxone available now; CVS sells it over the counter; training is available, and people who administer it are protected under a Good Samaritan law. All EMTs are licensed to give naloxone now (used to be only paramedics), and cops carry it as well in some cities”.
In West Virginia, the situation is more dire-
“I live near martinsburg, WV. place is occasionally referred to in the press as "little baltimore" due to the similarly severe opioid problems around. no naloxone is available over the counter as far as i know, i was planning a trip to a cvs in pennsylvania to acquire some. there's a bill to allow OTC sale in WV but it's locked up in the house at the moment...There's not a lot of sympathy for addicts in my circles. Suboxone  is viewed not as medicine but as "government drug dealing," I'd imagine they feel the same way about methadone”.
South Carolina:
“Suboxone and Methadone clinics are bringing in tons of new patients per day. The media doesn't really cover Opioid use in this state. I've only seen a couple news reports...The detox/mental health facilities in this state are all terrible. I've been to 2 of "the best" for detoxing in this state and they were absolutely horrible. ...The staff treat you as though you are sub-human and bark at you and give you orders... They were absolute shit-holes and the food was like left-over prison food, not to mention they strapped sick people down against their will. I'm definitely not going to another one of these "detox facilities".

Virginia checking in:
I'm from Virginia which we still consider the south. Harm reduction is basically nonexistent here while opioid use continues to grow rapidly. Pharmacies won't sell new syringes unless there's proof it's for insulin and narcan can't be purchased without a prescription. We have one methadone clinic in my mid-sized city and it's not worth the hassle for many addicts to go due to the high costs for intake and it's inconvenient location. There are very few suboxone doctors and that too costs too much to enter into a program if you can even get accepted into it due to their long waitlists. There are no rehabs and detoxes available unless you have the money or insurance, many people wanting to detox just go to the local hospital's ER to be admitted to their psych ward, which requires telling them you're suicidal to get in.
Overall there's no easy way to get help here unless you're loaded with money. I've watched heroin use explode locally over the past few years and yet all options for rehabilitation, maintenance, and harm reduction have stayed the same. Strangely enough the only improvements I've seen have come from our city police department. They've developed a program to get help for addicts they've arrested and are the only ones to have sounded off on the growing heroin problem and made an effort to help instead of just prosecute and send people back into the street. The situation here is terrible to say the least.
“Clean rigs are about impossible to get unless you know somebody that has diabetes and can get them for you. I'd say 3/4 of the IV users I know all have Hep and in the last 1-2 years HIV is starting to pop up with a few of the younger users (21-25) I know”.
“ I can pretty much 2nd anything... The only "harm reduction" I'm aware of exists in the form of cops, civic leaders and parents having "drug abuse prevention summits" where everyone decries "ain't it terrible???" and they all hold hands and pray it goes away. There's no formal or informal exchange, Narcan is at Walgreen's now - so there's that. .. I think the majority of the population here is too overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and too undereducated to know where to even begin to know where to do any good whatsoever. A generation or two will unfortunately be sacrificed before something positive happens, and that's a huge "maybe" something positive will occur.”
“What is harm reduction? No seriously, there is nothing here.”
“Louisville -if you consider that the south. We have a one or two exchanges, narcan is legal to own "you don't have to be a trained professional" but I rarely hear about it being handed out, don't know if you can buy OTC. Now if you cross the bridge into Indiana (I know it's not the south), watch out. I'm a few weeks away from being a convicted felon, and possibly serve 6 months just for having a goddamn syringe”.

In collecting interviews for this article, one of the most frightening thing as a an advocate working in public health was the overall lack of information. In states that had syringe exchanges or some way to obtain naloxone, users seemed to be painfully unaware of it. While the mainstream media chooses to focus on the sensational elements of the Opioid “epidemic”, prevention services are lucky to get a small feature in a local media paper. Here is a comprehensive map of services and list of resources.
Insert Map here:

How to find naloxone:
How to find a syringe exchange:
Harm Reduction Agencies working in Southern States
  • North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
  • Macon County OD prevention (NC)
  • Streetwork (Nashville, TN)
  • Atlanta Harm Reduction (Atlanta, GA)
  • Mississippi in Action (Jackson, MS)
  • Women With A Vision (New Orleans, LA)
  • The Ordinary People Society-TOPS (Dotham, AL)
  • Asheville Recovery Group (Asheville, NC)
  • Austin Harm Reduction Coalition (Austin, Tx)
  • Urban Survivors Union (Greensboro, NC)
  • Suncoast Harm Reduction Project (FLA)
  • NAMA Recovery of Tennessee (TN)
  • The Steady Collective (NC)
  • Georgia Overdose Prevention (GA)
  • Texas Overdose Naloxone Initiative (TX)
  • Tennessee Overdose Prevention (TN)
  • Radiant Church, Fayettteville (NC)
  • People Advocating Recovery in Northern Kentucky (KY)

"The struggle" outside of Memphis