The Controversial Answer To America’s Heroin Surge by John Knefel

Glenna, a FROST’D worker, holds up photographs of when she was using. March 27th, 2014. Macey J. Foronda / BuzzFeed

Glenna, a FROST’D worker, holds up photographs of when she was using. March 27th, 2014. Macey J. Foronda / BuzzFeed

With heroin use at epidemic levels, harm reduction — a bold, long-contested approach to treating addicts — is gaining political traction. But are we ready to make it easier to shoot heroin even if it means fewer deaths?

On a chilly Monday morning in mid-March on Coney Island, down Surf Avenue from the famous Wonder Wheel and Cyclone, a parked Dodge van blasts its heater. Stuffed with all manner of injection-drug paraphernalia — needles of different gauges, cookers, ties, pearl-sized cotton balls, alcohol wipes — as well as plastic bags of nonperishable food items called “pantry” and thousands of condoms and lube packets, it’s a clinical stockroom meets therapist’s office on wheels. The van has these supplies to make using drugs safer, all for free — though getting high in the van is not permitted.

Ian, 60, sits in the back of the van, rubbing his hands to keep warm. “I used for over 45 years. Last 25 years was basically crack,” he says. He suffered what he calls “three minor strokes” that doctors said should have killed him, but kept getting high. So when someone slid a flier under his door for something called harm reduction — an approach to combating drug use that allows the person to continue to get high, but in a safer way — he was interested. Slowly, he decreased his use from daily, to weekends, to monthly — until he could finally quit. Now he works for FROST’D (Foundation for Research on Sexually Transmitted Diseases) — one of New York City’s harm reduction programs and the organization that runs this mobile unit — as a peer educator, a paid, part-time position that serves as a bridge between the staff and the communities they serve. Read More…

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