Safe syringe program advocate says it’s about harm reduction, saving lives

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Nancy King found out in 2009 that her teenage daughter Marissa was using heroin, she was devastated. The epidemic was just beginning at the time and their wasn’t any information on substance abuse disorder.

The only thing she knew was that Marissa’s journey began when she abused prescription pills in high school.

Three years later, Marissa died.

“It wasn’t until after her overdose that I realized this can’t happen to other people,” King said. “My goal is to help create a compassionate community.”

It’s been King’s mission since that day. She co-founded the southwest Michigan  chapter of Families Against Narcotics and is now the executive director of the Community Outreach Prevention and Education Network.

On June 3, she spoke before Kalamazoo city commissioners about adopting their first safe syringe program. And the commissioners approved.

“Safe syringe programs aren’t just about giving needles to people, which is a lot of the concept. ‘You’re just handing needles out,'” King remembered people saying to her. “It’s really about recovery services.”

She said it’s also about reducing the spread of communicable diseases like hepatitis, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. If someone turns up positive, program officials can direct them to a number of health resources.

“(It’s about) being able to look in terms of the health of the individual,” King said. “So taking a harm reduction approach. Not everybody’s going to be ready for abstinence right away.”

Currently 2.5 million people suffer from a substance use disorder related to opioid pain medication, she said. Over 900,000 people are using heroin.

King believes that addiction is not a choice. Part of her goal is to educate the public about the epidemic and what users go through.

“Substance abuse is a medical illness and yet we treat it as a moral failing. And, its’ not,” King said. “Most of the time we’re seeing there’s a lot of connection to trauma in their life.”

King said now that city has voted on allowing for a safe syringe program to exist, what she's  looking for now is a location.

King and other organizations are looking for a place  where people addicted to drugs can bring used needles, to get them off the streets, and where they can also have access to health services.

However that may take some time, she said. They have to develop a formal program and present it to the city commission again before they can continue to move forward and open it to the public.

“We don’t want to see this as a process of enabling somebody,” King said. “If somebody suffers from a substance use disorder, until they are ready for recovery,  they’re going to do what they do. And we might as well do it in a way where we can keep them healthy,  safe, as well as keeping the community safe at the same time.”

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11 comments

  • Libertarians

    While these programs do use tax money and we know taxation is theft. It’s a better alternative than to pay for their health cost at the doctor office for incurable diseases. We need to do what Spain did and just legalize everything. Drug use went down 90% and people actually sought help instead of hiding, afraid to seek it.

    • James Mulder

      Enabling addicts is a sure way to kill them. Any former or current addict who REALLY wants to quit can tell you that. What we need is bleeding heart libs to stop enabling everyone and actually try to help… not that any lib will ever grow enough common sense to realize this. And yes I do have experience with this as I am a recovered addict of 14 years who has worked extensively with other addicts.

  • Rj

    Free needles make for more drug use, these addicted people are supposed to bring in there old needles which was a requirement at one time, Now they are everywhere and making for a very unsafe environment. Little kids being poked at playgrounds. Won’t be long and everywhere these tax funded handouts of drug paraphernalia we’ll be looking like California and all along the east and west coast. Won’t be long and we will have campsites in GR if there not already there, GR gonna pass mushrooms next ? For decades pot has been called a gateway drug and now people just don’t care. Why not just get this over with and make it all legal ?

  • lml25

    Once a person gets addicted to heroin,there’s no cure.It’s a slow process of killing themselves.I’ve seen it.Providing free anything so they can be sanitary while shooting up,is a poor idea.Let’s buy alcoholics bottles of whiskey too while we’re being philanthropic.

  • J.B.

    Ban straws at restaurants but give away syringes to junkies.
    Plus make the taxpayer pay for it..
    Wonder who gets stuck paying for picking up all these new piles of dirty needles everywhere?
    Guess we should hire some people to follow these junkies around with rubber gloves and pooper scoopers as well.
    You know..just for 20-30 years it takes for them to “figure stuff out” and “seek help”
    Meanwhile…Make sure to keep that south of the border heroin train running at full speed north.
    We like treating symptoms in this country while ignoring the underlying disease it appears.

  • stop the madness

    Anyone that doesn’t know where illegal drug use ends is not worth saving. Let them go their chosen path and say buh-bye.

  • James Mulder

    Enabling addicts is just handing them a death sentence. As a recovered addict of 14 years I know this for a fact. I’ve seen friends die because of governments enabling addicts instead of helping them stop. Makes me wonder if the government is trying to kill addicts off… but free needles is as far from the answer as you can get. This is Liberal stupidity at its finest.

    • Evan Kearney

      I would much rather die medicated the way I wanted to be than by by own hand fighting against people who are total anti harm-reductionists. Because, yes, we need to say the truth. People take their lives when they can’t get their drug of choice. Its not a fiction.

  • Evan Kearney

    FInally, something other than torturing people with atypical mesolimbic reinforcement pathways. Still not perfect. But better than yelling at people whose brains are literally so ill that most people would quake to the ground in tears if they knew the pain people felt each punctuate moment of their miserable lives.

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