On harm reduction outreach

A big part of my job is staffing the drop-in legal clinic at the GLIDE Foundation in the Tenderloin. As part of this work, I try to integrate with the different services that GLIDE provides, with the goal of understanding the needs of GLIDE’s clients and staff. One of GLIDE’s services is its harm reduction outreach. The harm reduction team works to reduce people’s risk of HIV and Hepatitis C through needle exchanges and safe drug kits. The idea is that if people are going to engage in drug use and sexual activity, the team can provide resources to help them reduce the harm from these activities.

So last Friday, I went out to downtown San Francisco with the team for an outreach. We had a cart loaded with syringes, needle disposal containers, condoms, lube, and antiseptic wipes and other first aid gear. We also brought materials used for smoking crack, including Brillo scouring pads (used as a screen for a crack pipe). Many people came by the cart and were genuinely grateful for the supplies. The team encouraged folks to come to the GLIDE office to get more supplies, along with counseling and other support.

While I was out on the outreach, several people came to me to talk about their legal issues. The director of the outreach would introduce me to folks, saying that I was a lawyer that they could trust. People seemed willing to talk because the outreach team vouched for me.

I don’t know much about intravenous drug use. It’s not a world with which I am really familiar. I learned a lot during the outreach. There’s different needle lengths (longs, shorts, micros, bee stingers), used for injecting in different parts of the body. People become familiar with a particular syringe length and are less inclined to try something new. There’s even something called a booty bumper, which looks like a syringe without the needle. It’s used to inject drugs into the anal cavity, which is lined with numerous small blood vessels. Using a booty bumper is like snorting, only safer. I’ve heard that the rush is instantaneous.

I will confess that I felt some trepidation before joining the outreach. I’m not super comfortable with the idea of giving people supplies to do drugs. But I also recognize that my discomfort is a luxury of not living in that world. I’m not an addiction expert. I’m not a public health professional. I haven’t seen my best friends die from HIV or Hepatitis C through sharing needles. I just wanted to come along to learn more about the world in which my clients live. For that reason, I’m glad that I went, and hope to go again.

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