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“I’ll lie down,” I say, or I think I said, but maybe I didn’t say anything.

I walked into my friend’s room and found it difficult to focus my eyes.

And I fell. The bed turned to a dark cloud and I slowly sank deeper and deeper. This is what I was looking for. I wanted something more than sleeping. I wanted to be in a coma. I wanted my brain to stop, to stop completely.

I could stay here forever. The thoughts fell asleep. My brain was silent; I was suspended. Every now and then a shrill but distant sound interrupted the stillness. The sound made its way. He made me realize the extent of this darkness. Light shivers, then more intense, invaded me, making me feel uncomfortable in the still and boundless darkness.

In August 1998, at the age of 24, during what was one of the endless relapses in my 15-year struggle with heroin addiction, I overdosed in my apartment. friend.

As it became more frequent, I realized that the distant sound was my friend, crying, yelling at me, shaking me. I got out of my body and saw her on the bed, practically above me, violently trying to wake me up.

“What is your problem?” I screamed, my voice incoherent.

“Oh my God, Erin, Erin, get up, get up! You weren’t breathing, she choked, crying.

I kept saying to myself, “What’s your problem? I was just lying down for a minute.

Struggling to get up, I realized the bed was soaked. I felt like I couldn’t walk. My movements were stiff, jerky, uncontrolled. Completely disoriented, I swung my arm and accidentally punched her in the face.

I made my way to the bathroom, bumping against the walls, unable to regain my balance. When I finally did, I looked at myself in the mirror. My face was icy gray and my lips were blue. They were blue. I started to lose consciousness again.

My friend managed to put me in the shower. If she hadn’t found me, hadn’t performed artificial respiration, and put me in cold water, I wouldn’t be here. I had had other close calls before this, but this was the worst. And it wasn’t the last time I used heroin; I continued to cycle relapse after relapse for another four and a half years.

I have been recovering for over 18 years now, but this day still haunts me. Sometimes at night, half awake, I panic and sit down because that drift, the one that comes right before sleeping, reminds me of what was almost a permanent derivative.

In 2020, more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States, an increase of almost 30% from 2019, the highest number on record at that time. With powerful synthetic opioids namely fentanyl flooding the market and breaking through other drugs, this number is likely to increase.

Undoubtedly, the stress of the pandemic and all of its aftermath has kept people in more extreme isolation. More inclined to use drugs alone; without the same access to support groups, MAT (drug assisted treatment) programs and distribution programs from Narcan (the brand name for naloxone); and without the human contact we all need, people with substance use disorders are at greater risk than ever.

Over the past decade, I have openly shared my experiences with addiction and my path to recovery. i did it in my advice column, in articles and in my book about it. I understand what it’s like not being able to stop, even though it can kill you.

While I don’t have all the answers, there are some things I’m sure about. First, people cannot recover if they are dead. You might think this is obvious. But our general treatment protocols in this country do not bring that thought to the fore. The push towards 12-step programs and abstinence shouldn’t be the # 1 priority; keep people living should be.

It is encouraging to see an increased awareness of overdose prevention. In New York City, programs like online naloxone training and free First aid kits in case of emergency overdose have become more visible. Harm reduction services in general have greatly improved in large cities. But I’m worried about those who don’t have access to it. I’ve spoken to people who have had to drive for hours and across state lines for medication assisted treatment. And the pandemic has only made matters worse.

I spoke with the author and the lawyer Tracey Helton Mitchell on the effects of the pandemic on drug overdoses. “The pandemic has offered a rare opportunity to change policies on how drug-assisted treatment is implemented in this country – more take-home doses, increase in telehealth, change in some prescribing guidelines, to name just one. just a few improvements, ”she said.

The pandemic, Mitchell said, has resulted in naloxone shortages and the shutdown of successful programs in West Virginia, New Jersey and Indiana. These disruptions, she noted, along with social isolation, made the administration of overdose prevention drugs nearly impossible.

Love in the trenches ?? a Maryland-based nonprofit organization for parents of people with addiction, aimed at erasing shame and educating people – is certified to distribute Narcan and conduct training sessions on Narcan. Co-founder Shawn Nocher told me about the Narcan shortages the group faced: “We are supposed to receive regular deliveries from Narcan from the state as part of the Opioid Response Team and we have some. lack. Our last boxes expired in mid-July and we just received our order this week. I was told it was a supply chain issue.

There has been an almost 18% increase in overdose death in Maryland in 2020 and the first quarter of this year saw an additional 5.7% increase over the 2020 figures. Fentanyl was involved in 92.2% of opioid-related overdoses statewide, but the strips fentanyl testing is not as readily available in this country.

Nocher noted the prevalence of fentanyl in Maryland, saying, “I get ‘bad batch alerts’ on my phone when the overdoses increase and they were constant in February / March of this year.”

“For the record, absolutely all of the deaths of members of our group have detected fentanyl,” she added.

I asked Mitchell about the effectiveness of fentanyl test strips in making drug use safer. She said: “The Fent test strips are a tool, but we need a whole arsenal. They can be effective in alerting a person to the presence of fens in a place where it was not intended. I think it is important to have test strips AND from the Narcan. It’s also important to have a friend on hand who will use the Narcan and / or call 911. I can’t even count how many people I’ve heard of have died with Narcan nearby.

Last week I spoke for Dopey Podcast virtual celebration of International Overdose Awareness Day. In the chat box, participants wrote down the names of those they had lost due to an overdose, and I realized that it was impossible for me to quantify the number of people I lost in the past. over the years because of addiction because it’s a never-ending list. I thought about that day in 1998 and the many other near misses I had. I wouldn’t be alive if I were in an active addiction today. I would never have survived the introduction of fentanyl.

I cannot stress enough the importance of educating people and doing everything in our power to make it as easy as possible to access harm reduction services, without humiliating or judging those who need these services.

Harm reduction is not allowing.

Labeling it as such threatens lives and amplifies the stigma around addiction. Harm reduction is the first and only stopgap for many drug addicts. Increasing visibility and access to harm reduction services is the way forward. September is National recovery month and there’s no better time to talk about it. For more information on access to services, see the National Coalition for Harm Reduction.

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Need help with a substance use disorder or mental health issue? In the United States, call 800-662-HELP (4357) for SAMHSA National Helpline.

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