Transcript

William Brangham: There is a tragic history in this country when it comes to drug use and addiction. Too often, stigma and racism prevent recovery and healing.

Jamie Favaro started a needle exchange program in 2005. She is also the founder of NEXT Distro, an online and mail-based platform that provides people who use drugs with lifesaving supplies, education and support.

Tonight, her Brief But Spectacular take on how we see addiction.

Jamie Favaro: There’s critics of harm reduction all over the country.

The most common thing we hear as harm reductionists is that we’re enabling people to use drugs. Research study upon research study has proven that what we’re doing does not increase substance use. It actually facilitates people getting into care.

I began an underground syringe exchange in 2005. I basically stood outside on a street corner at night handing out needles.

(LAUGHTER)

Jamie Favaro: It was great because people were able to keep themselves safe and healthy and well, and, also, it was an opportunity to talk to people openly about their drug use, about their struggles, about what they wanted for their future. And that became a legal needle exchange program in 2007.

People are using someone else’s syringe. They’re taking one syringe and they’re using it 20, 30 times. No one should be sharing needles. Sharing needles IS — facilitates HIV and hepatitis C transmission. And there needs to be syringe access for people who use drugs, so they can protect themselves against diseases.

a needle exchange is a place where people can come not just to access clean syringes and injection equipment. That’s a piece of it. It’s a much bigger story. It’s a place where you can access case management, linkage to care, advocacy. You can get referrals into drug treatment. We had a health clinic run by Columbia medical students.

Syringe exchange and harm reduction programs are not just places where people get clean needles. They create an atmosphere and an environment where someone who uses drugs can talk openly about their drug use and their struggles. Maybe they’re not interested in going into drug treatment that day, but they want to know about what their options are.

We’re going to provide that information without trying to pressure them into going into drug treatment. Working in harm reduction for almost 20 years, it’s been really difficult to see the kinder and gentler way that the media has approached opioid use.

Now that white people are dying, we’re blaming the Sackler family. We’re blaming Purdue Pharma. When Black and brown people were dying of overdose, it was their fault. It was because they were immoral.

The war on drugs has failed. And racialized drug policy is continuing to put poor people and Black and brown people in prison for using drugs, while white people are seen as victims of a pharmaceutical industry.

It’s been very important to prioritize communities of color and communities who have been systematically shut out of health care systems to ensure that those folks are the ones that receive care and service.

My name is Jamie Favaro, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on drug user health.

William Brangham: You can find all our Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.