November 17th, 2021
Dear community members,
There have been recent articles speaking on the 33 Fentanyl overdoses in our Humboldt County community in 2021. We, The Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction (The Center) would like to share our condolences to family members, friends, and loved ones of these 33 individuals that we have lost. Some of these individuals were our participants, and people we loved and cared about. Our community at The Center has witnessed and experienced grief beyond comparison this year and last, and we want to make sure that these losses are not used to spread misinformation or a dangerous narrative about people who use drugs.
- You CANNOT overdose by simply touching fentanyl; it cannot be absorbed through the skin in powder form
- Narcan is effective in reversing a fentanyl overdose and any other opioid overdose
- You cannot overdose by coming in contact with someone who is overdosing on fentanyl
- You cannot overdose by inhaling fentanyl powder in the air.
To some, the punitive tactics used in the War on Drugs is viewed as an answer to the issues that we are facing in our communities. In our line of work as harm reductionists, however, we have seen the ways in which these punitive systems are counterproductive and harmful. This is made very clear by looking at the increase in prison populations since the 1980’s. As a nation, we saw drug-related charges rise by 114.8% in 30 years, yet people are still using drugs, and fatal overdoses are higher than they’ve ever been. Additionally, we know that these systems disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. Black people comprise 13% of the U.S. population, yet, they comprise 29% of those arrested for drug law violations, nearly 35% of those incarcerated in state or federal prison for any drug law violations, and roughly 35% of those incarcerated in state prison for possession only (Drug Policy Alliance).
Calling for fentanyl dealers to face murder charges is a superficial response to an issue that is much more nuanced and structural in nature. Throwing people in jail has not decreased drug use and charging people with murder for dealing fentanyl or other drugs has not been successful at getting drugs off the street. The criminalization of people who use drugs and the lack of a regulated and safe supply only perpetuates and increases drug-related harm, including overdose.
Clearly, punitive systems are not working, so what can we do instead?
We cannot solve the overdose crisis overnight, but there are some tangible things that you can do to help advocate for the rights of people who use drugs- especially since misinformation, silence, and stigma around substance use can be deadly.
First, Get trained on overdose prevention, including recognizing the signs of an opiate overdose, how to use Narcan, and how to use fentanyl test strips. Being trained in overdose prevention and carrying Narcan is especially important if you or someone you know is a person who uses drugs (no matter the kind and no matter how often).
Factors that increase the risk of an opioid overdose:
- Lower than normal tolerance (Common for people who have just gotten out of jail or prison or experienced any kind of detox)
- Polysubstance use. Some particularly risky combinations include mixing alcohol and opioids, and/or stimulants and opioids
- Unpredictable quality of drugs.
- Pre-existing health issues (especially respiratory)
Supporting people who use drugs in our community can look like changing your language, recognizing and challenging the stigma you hold, and being critical of the ways that you interpret news stories about the criminalization of people who use drugs. Additionally, we can demand that our local elected officials be held accountable when they create barriers to services, we can advocate for more funding for harm reduction and low barrier treatment resources, and lastly we can educate ourselves on the negative impacts of the War on Drugs and how the long history of prohibition has created devastating effects on our communities.
The Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction offers free overdose prevention training, education, Narcan, fentanyl test kits, linkage to low barrier Medication Assisted Treatment and much more. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Join us in continuing to fight for the rights of people who use drugs, sex workers, and people experiencing homelessness in our community by taking some of the steps mentioned above into your week ahead.
The Humboldt Area Center for Harm Reduction
Info on fentanyl & overdose prevention:
Resources on the ineffectiveness of drug induced homicide laws and criminalization:
The STOP Fentanyl Act is a senate bill that is supported by Drug Policy Alliance and would create programs to address addiction and overdose from fentanyl and other opioids (focus on treatment and overdose prevention not criminalization): https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/2366/text