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Two Decades of Loving Drug Users


When I started this work over 20 years ago, I thought I’d do a couple of years of intense street-based activism for syringe exchange and then I’d go back to being a disinterested, transient waiter who had more interest in culture and politics than serving well prepared crab cakes.

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At that time, there was an emergency that needed addressing and it was in your face. Bodies were literally at your feet.

Out of that emergency, a community was born. A community that stretched from the South Bronx to San Francisco, Tacoma, New Haven, Seattle, Roxbury, East Harlem, DC, LA, Austin, East Palo Alto, Chicago, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Philadelphia and scores of other places throughout the country. It was a community committed to a response to injustice. Twenty years later, we still have that community. And the only crab cakes I have to deal with are in Baltimore.

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As I reflect, strong loving relationships have carried me through this work and through the years. Babies, divorce, marriage, drugs, sex, chaos, drama, AIDS, cancer, overdose, funerals, memorials, children, life – a litany of human events that provide a back drop to the work we do and the movement we cherish. Relationships sustain me and make the work possible. Isn’t this true for us all?

Without this connection, how do we keep going? Without our collective wisdom, how do we foster change?

Without a doubt, people who use drugs have seen things change for the better over the last 20 years – better access to HIV care, improved but not universal access to syringes, minimal sentencing reform, wider acceptance of naloxone, improved HCV  treatment – and these improvements are not to be minimized. But the emotional, physical, and spiritual terrorism continues with little abatement. The cumulative impact of years and years of hearing of pain and indignities weighs heavy.

Where does the resilience lie? I come back to the same answer. It lies with us. Colleagues, friends, children, lovers, and sometime adversaries – the community. There is wisdom and strength in surviving, in twenty years of community.

I have faith that we can accomplish our goal to achieve a society where drug users get their human and civil rights as well as the services they need in non-coercive, respectful ways. Your support for the Harm Reduction Coalition helps ensure that the harm reduction community has a prominent voice in how these things are achieved.

The Harm Reduction Coalition is the community. We know what it’s like to overdose, go into treatment, shoot drugs, be discriminated against, do sex work. We know what it is like to save a loved one and to lose a loved one. We bring that  authenticity to the work we do, the meetings we attend and the relationships we forge. We know what the hell we are talking about when we advocate for naloxone, or syringes or treatment options.

We have a funding ban to remove. We need naloxone everywhere. We need harm reduction services to be Medicaid billable.  Drug users need dignified healthcare services. Organizations need technical assistance. And the voice and experience of the Harm Reduction Coalition, needs to be at all of these tables.

We have 20 years of experience of getting to the table to negotiate, represent, argue, make friends and make demands  for all of this and more. We need your help to make sure we are there for another 20.

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In Solidarity,

Allan Clear
Executive Director

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