harm reduction

Episode 47: Can Harm Reduction and Cops Coexist?

Something that never gets said enough is that the drug war is racist. This is not an opinion any more than it is an opinion that the American Civil War was fought over slavery. Both were crafted by racists to serve racist agendas of controlling people based on their skin color. It is why it is more urgent than ever that we dismantle this system of oppression, the so-called war on drugs, which would be perhaps better described as simply a war on people.

In many ways, prohibition is far more harmful to people than the drugs that are banned. Harm reduction is a philosophy and a practice that aims to fill in the gaps—if we can’t have a safe, regulated drug supply for heroin or meth like we do with alcohol or tobacco, sometimes even cannabis, then maybe we can make drug use more safe in other ways. Here’s some sterile syringes, here’s some naloxone, here’s a phone number you can call if you want to get counseling, etc… 

Narcotica hosts Zachary Siegel and Troy Farah talk with Haley Coles from Sonoran Prevention Works, a grassroots harm reduction non-profit in Phoenix, Arizona that works against some of the structural issues surrounding communities impacted by drug use in Arizona. The infrastructure of harm reduction in the Grand Canyon State is scarce compared to a lot of states—syringe access is still illegal, for example—so there’s a lot of room for growth. We discuss racial justice in the field of harm reduction, where the movement has fallen short, and how things can get better.

Follow Sonoran Prevention Works on Twitter @spw_az

You can read SPW’s BLM statement here: https://mailchi.mp/spwaz/black-lives-matter

If you liked this episode, here are others you might enjoy:
Episode 44: Reimagining Public Health and Racial Justice
Episode 42: Supervised Consumption is an Essential Service
Hot Spots 1 – 3 Arizona, Iowa and Nova Scotia

Follow Narcotica on Facebook, Twitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher and more. Tell your friends about us!

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel

Co-producer: Garrett Farah

Music: Glass Boy

Image: PXhere // edit: Troy Farah

Episode 44: Reimagining Public Health and Racial Justice

There are several health crises occurring around the U.S. and the world right now: overdose deaths, a pandemic, police brutality and violence… While these crises may all feel distinct one from one another, they are actually deeply entwined and can be understood through a lens of racial justice. Overdose deaths disparately impact people of color, as does Covid-19. People of color, especially Black men, find themselves on the blunt end of police brutality and excessive use of force.

To talk about the theme of racial justice across public health, policing, and harm reduction, Zach and Troy were honored to speak with veteran researcher Dr. Ricky Bluthenthal, who has been a harm reduction researcher for decades, writing some of the foundational evaluations of syringe exchange programs. Right now, he’s the associate dean for social justice at University of Southern California’s School of Medicine. We talk about syringe access programs, policing homelessness, “socialism” in public health and so much more.

Follow Ricky Bluthenthal on Twitter @DrPtw
Here is more info on SIF MA: https://sifmanow.org/

Also, here’s the GoFundMe for Aubri Esters: https://www.gofundme.com/f/in-honor-of-aubri-esters

Follow Narcotica on Facebook, Twitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher and more. Tell your friends about us!

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Garrett Farah
Music: Glass Boy
Image: Zachary Siegel // edit: Troy Farah

Hot Spots 1 – 3 Arizona, Iowa and Nova Scotia

Pretty much everyone on the planet is being impacted by Covid-19 right now. Harm reduction services like syringe access programs or supervised consumption sites are no exception. But for some people, these services are not just their lifeline, they’re the only healthcare they receive, period. And when hospitals and doctor’s offices are already stretched thin, it can lead to a lot of potentially harmful situations. 

At Narcotica, we’re introducing a new miniseries called Hot Spots, where we’re going to call up people in harm reduction across the country and ask them how coronavirus has impacted their services and the people they help. 

We have three shorter interviews, which equal a full episode. First up, we have a segment from Troy Farah, talking to Thoi at Shot in the Dark in Phoenix about getting creative with syringe access during the pandemic. Then Philly’s Christopher Moraff talks to Matthew Bonn in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia about services offered in Canada and the local drug trade there, and I round out the hour with Sarah Ziegenhorn, the executive director at the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, about what happens when services suddenly ghost their clients.

Follow Sarah Ziegenhorn on Twitter @sarah_ziggy, Matthew Bonn @matthew__bonn and Thoi @bjthoi

Follow Narcotica on Facebook, Twitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher and more. Tell your friends about us!

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Garrett Farah
Music: Glass Boy
Image: Pixabay / edit: Troy Farah

Episode 42: Supervised Consumption is an Essential Service

The covid-19 crisis has exposed many weak spots in our culture and the need for radical change. It has revealed which workers are really essential—hint: it’s not executives keeping this late-stage capitalist economy afloat—and that we need to pay these workers a living wage. It has revealed that yes, healthcare is a human right and that contributing to public health is, shockingly, essential to keep everyone healthy. 

And perhaps most relevant to this show, the covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the utmost importance of supervised consumption sites, or places where people can use drugs under medical supervision. We have numerous episodes in the past on this issue, so check out our archives if you aren’t already familiar: Episode 31, Episode 26 and way back on Episode number 4. 

We have two guests today: Sterling Johnson, a housing lawyer, who is well known among Philly harm reductionists and has been fighting for a supervised consumption site for years, and Matthew Sheppeck, an organizer with the Philadelphia Tenants Union, a harm reductionist, and addiction outreach specialist that works with homeless drug users in the Kensington region of Philadelphia. 

We discuss everything from housing as a human right, whether cops should carry naloxone, representation in harm reduction institutions and the importance of supervised consumption spaces, but why they need to reflect the needs of people who use drugs. We also discuss the coronavirus pandemic that is overshadowing everything and how that is changing so much about harm reduction.

Follow Sterling Johnson on Twitter @LB_Sterling and Matthew Sheppeck on Instagram @Sheppecksees.

Follow Narcotica on Facebook, Twitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher and more. Tell your friends about us!

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-producer: Garrett Farah
Music: Glass Boy / Pictures of the Floating World
Image: Wikimedia / edit: Troy Farah
One correction: At the 21:30 mark, Zach incorrectly quoted Gov. Andrew Cuoma. There were 263 positive infections at Rikers, not deaths. We regret the error.

Episode 33: Party and Play—An Intro to Chemsex

Aphrodisiacs are powerfully attractive for a reason. Sex is, after all, crucial to the survival of our species and it feels fucking amazing, so using chemicals that can make sex last longer, feel better or otherwise enhance the act is going to be like candy to a bunch of horny primates.

But the term chemsex—using drugs, or chemical enhancement, to prolong or alter sexual experiences—is actually specific to the gay community, or men who have sex with men. Drugs used have included methamphetamine, Viagra or sildenafil, cocaine, the anesthetic GHB, mephedrone (also known as ‘bath salts,’ although that’s a broad term), ketamine, and amyl nitrates or “poppers.”

Our guest today is David Stuart, who has spent decades as a fixture in London’s gay community. Stuart is an independent social worker and activist who actually coined the term ‘chemsex’ in the 1990’s. Stuart has witnessed the fundamental changes in the gay community as homosexuality has become more acceptable, but fleeting internet-based hook ups became increasingly ubiquitous, and in some cases fraught with potential medical and mental health risks.

You can follow David Stuart on Twitter and learn more about him at https://www.davidstuart.org/

Follow Narcotica on Facebook, Twitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher and more. Tell your friends about us!
Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel 
Co-Producer: Aaron Ferguson 
Music: Glass Boy / Monplaisir
Photo: Linnaea Mallette / Edit Troy Farah

Episode 26: Housing As Harm Reduction

Sarn is a Pathway to Housing participant in Philadelphia via Chris Moraff

The Kensington neighborhood in Philadelphia is often described as “ground zero” in the overdose crisis. The New York Times Magazine gave Kensington’s open air drug market the dubious title, “The Walmart of Heroin.” Of course, if you take a tour of Kensington without a DEA agent nearby, you might meet someone like Sarn, who after years of unstable housing and chaotic drug use, now has his own place to live. Operating from a Housing First model, organizations like Pathways to Housing are fighting the tides of endemic poverty, homelessness, and addiction. On today’s show, the crew interviews Sarn and Matt Tice, of Pathways to Housing, about how “Housing First” is a critical response to Philly’s overdose crisis.

Follow Matt Tice on Twitter and learn more about Pathways on their website.

Follow Narcotica on FacebookTwitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated! We’re on Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, Sticher and more. Tell your friends about us!

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-Producer: Aaron Ferguson 
Music: Glass Boy, Aaron Ferguson
Image: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah

Episode 21: Ethically Documenting Drug Use Activism

Sometimes, you’ll be reading a great piece on the drug overdose crisis that is just ruined by a crappy stock image of a gigantic syringe and a mountain of what is obviously flour or someone nodding out on the sidewalk. On this episode, Narcotica explores what accurate, tactful drug imagery should look like.

The team speaks with Nigel Brunsdon, the official/unofficial photographer of the modern day harm reduction movement, who is joining us via from the UK. He has shadowed the Chicago Recovery Alliance, Harm Reduction International, and many others on the front lines of the so-called drug war. His photos of the workers, advocates, people who use drugs, and the academics are loaded with grief, emotion, hope, and solidarity. He explains balancing privilege, relationships and representation of impacted communities through drug war photojournalism.

Follow Nigel on his website nigelbrunsdon.com and check out harmreductionphilosophy.com for more on how harm reduction works as an ideology.

Follow Narcotica on FacebookTwitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated!

We talk a lot about this image that we used from Nigel for Episode 3, memorializing harm reduction activist Dan Bigg. Here it is for reference:


Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-Producer: Aaron Ferguson
Music: Glass Boy and Aaron Ferguson
Image Credit: Nigel Brunsdon / Edit by Troy Farah

Episode 20: The Pitfalls of Mainstream Harm Reduction

via Troy Farah

In this episode, Chris and Zach sit down with Eliza Wheeler of the Harm Reduction Coalition in San Francisco. Wheeler has been working in harm reduction, distributing syringes and naloxone directly to people who use drugs, for over two decades. She’s seen a lot of progress in her lifetime. But as harm reduction goes mainstream, Wheeler sees how easily the bedrock values and principles of the movement can be compromised and coopted by political forces. Zach, Chris, and Eliza talk about how funds for naloxone get in the wrong hands, how syringe exchanges deal with NIMBYism, and how the heart of her harm reduction philosophy is bodily autonomy.

Follow Narcotica on FacebookTwitter and support us on Patreon. Your support is appreciated!

Follow the DOPE Project ‏and the Harm Reduction Coalition on Twitter.

Producers: Christopher Moraff, Troy Farah, Zachary Siegel
Co-Producer: Aaron Ferguson
Music: Glass Boy and Aaron Ferguson
Image Credit: Chris Moraff / Edit by Troy Farah

Episode 18: Drug User Unions – The Rebirth of Harm Reduction

In this episode, Zach and Troy interview two veteran harm reduction activists: Jess Tilley and Albie Park. Jess and Albie have organized on behalf of drug users for decades, building community to ensure that no one has to die a preventable overdose death. You’ll learn about how they met, how they work, and what policies and ideas they are currently prioritizing. You’ll also hear about what they envision for the future of harm reduction in the midst of, in Jess’s words, an “overdose apocalypse.” Zach and Troy mostly let them do the talking. Enjoy.

Harm Reduction Hedgehogs /@HRH413/Media Toolkit

Produced by Aaron Ferguson, Troy Farah, and Zachary Siegel

Episode 15: Accurate, Compassionate Drug Journalism with Filter Magazine

Mainstream media doesn’t really ‘get’ drugs, but there’s one place that has consistently gotten it right: Filter Magazine. Narcotica hosts Christopher Moraff, Zachary Siegel and Troy Farah talk with Filter’s co-founder and editor-in-chief Will Godfrey. This conversation covers a lot of ground on media literacy and compassionate reporting on drug use.

Full disclosure: all three of us at Narcotica have worked with Godfrey in some way. But we completely support the work that Filter is doing, which is what we hope Narcotica accomplishes: responsible, scientific, and compassionate reporting on drugs.

Learn more about Filter Magazine on their website and follow Will Godfrey on Twitter.

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Producer: Christopher Moraff / Troy Farah
Image credit: Eduardo Verdugo
Music: KieLoKaz, Glass Boy and Aaron Ferguson
Co-Producer: Aaron Ferguson — https://soundcloud.com/knowmad1

Episode 4: Supervised Consumption Breaks Rod Rosenstein’s Brain


In response to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s outrageous supervised consumption op-ed in the New York Times, the Narcotica team speaks with Laura Thomas, of the Drug Policy Alliance, who broke down the obstacles harm reduction workers face in opening a site in the United States. Thomas, who is deputy state director at DPA, has been championing supervised consumption sites for over a decade, because she knows what the data says: SCS save lives.

But how long until we see a facility in the U.S.? We discuss the status of many projects in Washington, New York, and California, and what kind of fight we can expect from the Department of Justice.

You can follow Laura on Twitter @LThomas and learn more about the Drug Policy Alliance at drugpolicy.org.

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Photo credit: Composite by Troy Farah