In the same way that the United States doesn’t actually have a shortage of insulin or housing, there has never been a shortage of naloxone. There’s been a shortage of affordable naloxone. The thing itself exists in plenty, and has this whole time, it’s simply withheld from most of the people who use it.
In late April 2021, a manufacturing disruption brought Pfizer’s naloxone production to a standstill, leaving more than half the country’s harm reduction programs without access as overdose reached an all-time high. Now, a new naloxone product is being manufactured for harm reduction programs exclusively.
A lot of energy is being aimed at the legal arguments put forth in the Supreme Court draft majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, which leaked on May 2. In particular, lots of objection to this:
“These attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito. “Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution and the like."
On May 4 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the Drug User Liberation Front (DULF) distributed 3.5 grams each of fentanyl-free heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine to members of the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society. The action, dedicated to the 165 people in British Columbia recorded to have died of drug toxicity in March 2022, comes in the wake of Health Canada’s de facto rejection of DULF’s bid to distribute safe supply legally through a compassion club model.
The worst thing I’ve seen suggested at one of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s biannual Prescription Drug Take Back days is that this one, April 30, will be a family-friendly event where kids play with trucks.
Take Back Day’s whole thing is that unused or expired prescriptions “can be just as dangerous as street drugs.” It leans pretty hard into the stats describing how most people using controlled substances off-label, especially young people, get them from family or friends for free.
Traditionally, the conversation around US safe supply consists of saying that we don’t have one and then pointing to Canada. Even the most constrained and medicalized models of safe supply feel so far away. A lot of this is because we have a Drug Enforcement Administration where there could be just a health department, but one of the quieter things holding us back is that we have very little public access to forensic drug-checking technology.
Back before I’d ever heard of harm reduction, I spent a lot of time preoccupied with whether my prescription stimulant use was a medical thing or a recreational thing. I got the prescriptions, Adderall mostly, off-label for treatment-resistant depression, which to this day hasn’t responded to therapy or clinical trials or something like 20 psychiatric medications but does respond to stims.
In 2019, Canada funded an expansion of safe supply and put out a call for pilot programs. Of particular interest to the federal health department was an emerging approach it identified as a “flexible” model: community-based, low-threshold public health initiatives that suggested a “strong potential for scaling up” and reaching people left out by more structured programs. It would still be a medicalized model, but as removed from addiction medicine as possible without breaking any laws.
For most of the nearly six years British Columbia’s overdose crisis has been declared a public health emergency, the consumption method linked to the most deaths has been smoking. Since 2017, smoking has been involved in more than 40 percent of BC overdose fatalities, nearly twice the prevalence of shooting or snorting deaths.
A small safe supply program in Hamilton, Ontario, is expanding. It has no funding, a capacity limited to a few dozen participants and it can’t offer pharmaceutical heroin. Yet it’s the only authorized safe supply program in the city, underscoring both the momentum behind medical providers facilitating safe supply in Canada and the glaring inadequacy of medicalized models to ultimately meet drug users’ needs.
A few weeks ago when the CDC announced we’d passed 100,000 recorded overdose deaths in a 12-month period, I wondered if maybe I had to write something about it. It was obviously the sort of news we cover at Filter. And there are only a couple of days a year when the mass deaths can be briefly unignorable for the public who aren’t paying attention to them and the public officials who are causing them.
Two-and-a-half years after a bad relationship left her homeless, and 16 months after Child Protective Services took her children, Stephanie Hahn was living in a makeshift tent on the side of a freeway. “I was just super lost,” Hahn, 38, told Filter. “And I was in hot water. I had a warrant out for my arrest, I had no money, no phone, missing my CPS visits. The only thing I had was my Satanism.”
On December 20, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) released a statement confirming that OnPoint NYC’s two locations, in East Harlem and Washington Heights, had prevented at least 59 overdoses. At least four more were prevented in the time between the publication of that statement and this article.
Because it is October, attorneys general across the country are participating in the annual tradition of urging parents to stand vigilant against free drugs disguised as candy. This year, however, the familiar warning has gotten an update: that amid the pandemic, the US is seeing a spike in “THC overdose,” driven by edibles, among children.
The Never Use Alone Massachusetts hotline has become Never Use Alone New England, consolidating the free service for people using drugs across Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The phone number is the same: 1-800-972-0590.
If you’re about to use alone, you can call the hotline and a trained volunteer operator will stay on the phone with you—you can chat as much or as little as you’d like.