My daughter Sammie read something to me from a Narcotics Anonymous pamphlet years ago. “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”
She was my oldest child – bright, talented and beautiful. She graduated high school at 17, worked to help put herself through college and attended art school. She made friends easily, loved her family, and at 25 years old, Sammie died of an accidental heroin overdose.
I was taught earlier in life that drugs are bad and people who use drugs are bad. But I knew in my heart that my daughter was not bad. I had watched Sammie struggle for years with her substance dependency even as she went through many detox and rehab facilities.
I watched her be shamed and stigmatized as she desperately tried to find help, only to be turned down, turned away or made to jump through unreachable hoops. I held her when she cried because she felt like a loser, a failure. She just couldn’t get better, be better. Sammie wanted nothing more than to be seen for who she was, not the negative labels stamped on her due to her substance use.
On Aug. 31, 2013, I attended a march for International Overdose Awareness Day. At first I was reluctant to go, but that walk changed me. I was met with love, compassion and no judgment for me, or my daughter. I heard about concepts new to me: needle exchange, harm reduction, safe consumption. And I learned about how to recognize an overdose and treating it with naloxone.
These ideas made me wonder: Had I been making the same mistakes and expecting a different result?
I began reading every argument I could find, for and against. I visited harm reduction facilities and talked to anyone that would listen. After examining the evidence, I realized harm reduction and safe consumption just make sense.
Many other countries have been operating safe consumption facilities for decades. They provide much-needed medical and mental health services to people who wouldn’t have access. Participants are more likely to seek treatment and enter recovery. These sites actually reduce crime in surrounding neighborhoods, reduce discarded needles, and reduces the spread of HIV and hepatitis C.
And most moving to me, I learned that there has never been a single overdose death in a safe consumption site – not one. If they had been available in 2013, it is likely that my daughter and many like her would still be alive.
That’s why I’m a vocal supporter of Assembly Bill 186 by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, a Stockton Democrat. The bill – which could be voted on this week and is supported by drug treatment associations, drug policy reformers, and HIV and hepatitis prevention advocates – would give local governments the discretion to test safe consumption services.
Sammie’s death, and my quest for knowledge, has led me to the conclusion that what we are doing on substance abuse isn’t working. It is a health issue and should be treated as such. Safe consumption is a health service that should be offered in California and across the nation. AB 186 will let us test it here, to see if it works as it has for decades in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Lora Schroeder of Davis is board member of Harm Reduction Services Sacramento. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.