Jeffrey is escorted to my office by Michel from The Steady Collective. He’s agreed to talk with me about the opioid epidemic—how he sees it.
Jeffrey is involved in Steady’s Peer to Peer program. This means he takes 100-200 clean needles at a time out onto the streets and hands them out to folks who can’t make it to a designated pick-up. He carries a sharps container, picking up used needles as a public and environmental service. He flushes them with water before depositing them in the container so that he does not get searched and charged with paraphernalia. These are the tricks-of-the-trade you learn when attempting community outreach.
Jeffrey is helping me with a piece of writing that will address the intersection of Haywood Street and the opioid crisis and so for the next hour we talk about a number of hard-to-swallow realities. Jeffrey is not a drug user himself. He has never been an IV drug user. So I ask him why he shows up the way he does. I actually ask him this three times, in different ways. The first time, he says its because he knows a kid who stepped on a needle and got Hep-C. The second time he says its because of his friends–he just cares about them. Later, Jeffrey tells me he was adopted. Because his biological parents had been addicted to drugs. “Maybe that has something to do with it.”
“So when you’re out there providing needles, administering Narcan, picking up needles by the dozen, do you have an agenda? Are you trying to convince folks to change their ways or go to rehab?” “Not really. People try to say I’m helping people use. I’m just trying to help them use a clean needle.”
Jeffrey does not seem to have over-analyzed the current epidemic. He doesn’t lay down statistics or national trend information. Jeffrey fills his backpack up with needles. He hits the streets. He meets people where they’re at. No questions. And in doing so, Jeffrey reminds me that the intersection of Haywood Street and addiction, it’s actually quite simple: where you are, there we are.