Guest Commentary: To out-hustle the overdose problem, talk to drug users

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Jordan McClements is a writer, composition/literature instructor and recovering heroin survivor, as well as a Master of Fine Arts student at Columbia College Chicago. He resides in Felton.

Making distributing fentanyl a felony murder offense, as being attempted through legislation filed recently by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, is a tactic that’s going to negatively impact all Americans. The Americans that need our help the most are going to be impacted the worst by this.

I see this is a clear attempt at elimination of both drug dealers and drug users in the United States.

This has happened before, when the War on Drugs started, but things didn’t change when my relative was using in the ’80s and ’90s, when I overdosed in 2017, when my cousin overdosed and died in 2019 and now, in 2022, when members of the government want to make fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.

I feel this will lead to further acts of prohibition, leading to a deadlier drug supply and, consequently, more overdoses.

At the same time, these intentions would increase the erasure, murder and incarcerated labor of poor people in the United States.

As a recovering user, what makes this further problematic to me is that dealers and buyers don’t know what is being exchanged, and users are chasing fentanyl, while simultaneously chasing death. As a former user, I have seen that people are specifically seeking out fentanyl as a high, not an accidental purchase of what they thought was something else.

Now that the government has allowed the nation to get strung out on pills and cashed out, I feel they’re looking to do the same thing on the common person distributing or using fentanyl.

Instead of the government protecting people through treating the current overdose crisis and embracing harm reduction, now we have pushes for the law and law enforcement to continue the mishandling of the overdose crisis.

We are losing 100,000 Americans a year to overdose, yet we are hiring people I consider unqualified. Those who have never experienced drug use listen to the same people with the same lack of qualifications to handle these decisions.

The United States’ attempts to introduce fentanyl testing strips and naloxone is beneficial, yes, but it’s not enough. Naloxone only works on overdoses caused by opioids. This family of drugs includes prescription painkillers like OxyContin, fentanyl, methadone and Vicodin, as well as street drugs like heroin. Naloxone will not reverse overdose resulting from nonopioid drugs, like cocaine, benzodiazepines (“benzos”) or alcohol.

Why would drug users use naloxone when they’re chasing death?

Why aren’t all drug users excited that red tape is being cut concerning opioid withdrawal?

Buprenorphine and methadone don’t work for meth users and create a worse withdrawal, given how much fentanyl is in heroin these days.

Why don’t all drug users want treatment? The cycle of rehab to prison industrial complex: the use of rehab and prison by the state to solve economic, social and political issues instead of helping people.

This is how the United States ran things when I overdosed on heroin and survived, while my cousin overdosed many times and died. It’s how treatment continues today.

The overdose crisis is in the public and the private spaces. It’s not just those ages 18-40 — the age group that has the highest death rate from fentanyl — overdosing alone.

Fentanyl test strips should be placed in all public places for free.

The overdose crisis affects everyone, from teenagers experimenting with pills and who are likely not going to use test strips either, all the way to those using intravenously. All chasing death.

We need to innovate STEM within the United States to create solutions to xylazine/“tranq” and every other new drug coming into the drug supply. We need to get shelter, food, water and employment to those using without a home and those coming out of treatment. There needs to be a clean, regulated supply because drug users, no matter their age, are chasing death. If there is a clean supply, death lessens in the ratio.

This is the current state of the War on Drugs.

We must act three steps ahead, instead of feigning to treat the overdose crisis such as it was when I was shooting up for the last time in 2017. Same as it ever was? No. These aren’t your dad’s drugs on the street these days.

We are all responsible. There is no USA without us.

You talk at us in rehab.

You talk at us in prison.

You talk at the dead.

What can you do to help us? Have a dialogue with the living, not your condolences.

Just like “violence interrupters” used in Chicago, we need overdose interrupters.

Only ex-users can speak the language of the user and fully understand the experience. Only a hustler can outhustle a hustler.

The overdose interrupters will be comprised of people that are ex-users that have not been using for over 10 years or more. They can go out into the field and ask what users need in real time. This will collect the exact answers needed to start ending the overdose crisis.

Relying on those who have never used is why we are in an overdose crisis.

We are making a bipartisan issue out of people chasing suicide. Democrats, Republicans and independents speak for — and at — users, personally as well as systemically.

Overdose interrupters will not only employ harm reduction by talking with users about testing their drugs, they will talk with users about solutions getting the person out of using and into receiving help. But the right help has to be there in the first place.

Overdose interrupters should purchase bags and have forensics determine what is in the supply in real time. That will help create solutions to change withdrawal medication since it is becoming ineffective.

The overdose interrupters will curb the overdose crisis you created.

You can create this nonpartisan solution easily, and we know it.

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